Billy Bragg

It’s the first full day of SXSW’s music portion and what better way to kick it off than in the sunny backyard of a small studio just east of the Austin Convention Center, chilling with alt-rock-slash-punk-folk — slash whatever you want to call him — legend Billy Bragg.

Bragg kicked off his SXSW with a short set of songs (one of several planned recording sessions with Daytrotter this week) off his new album, Tooth & Nail, plus an oldie just for fun.

Bragg, who joked that he’d been coming to South by Southwest since it was South by Northeast, warmed up by practicing some scales and then launched into several songs off his new album.

The first, “Handyman Blues” is a lighter track — available here on Soundcloud ahead of the full album release — that likely resonates with anyone who feels inadequate in the home repairs (and maybe life repairs as well) department. It was a fun way to start off a set that continued to delve deeper into blues and Bragg’s politics.

Bragg grew up in Barking, Essex, just east of central London, and introduced himself during the session as “the Bard of Barking.” The second song he played was a Woody Guthrie cover that appears on the new album, the soulful, bluesy “I Ain’t Got No Home In This World Anymore.” Bragg described his latest as somewhat of a follow up to Mermaid Avenue, his 1998 collaboration with Wilco of unpublished Guthrie songs.

Nearly as famous for his political activism as for his music, Bragg couldn’t resist throwing in an old favorite at the end of the set, “Sexuality,” which he introduced by saying “this is for everyone out there campaigning for equal marriage.” The song, off his 1991 album Don’t Try This At Home, became known as a sex-positive anthem in the 90s, with lyrics like “Safe sex doesn’t mean no sex/it just means use your imagination.” The only bummer was that Johnny Marr (who co-wrote the song with Bragg and plays guitar on the original recording) wasn’t there to join him on the track.

Tooth & Nail comes out on March 19. Bragg is playing several shows at SXSW throughout the week.

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