Bragg is totally committed socially and politically as a musician, but the results – the songs, the playing and the singing – have always been uneven. This EP is concentrated goodness, and the length helps keep the longeurs, like the communist anthem, brief.
There’s a fine new set of lyric about Phil Ochs, set to “Joe Hill,” and excellent accompaniment on tracks like “The Marching Song of the Covert Battalions” and “The Red Flag.” The former is of course obvious, and a bit tendentious in performance, but Bragg sells the sarcastic wit too, and the latter is rousing enough to make anyone cry “aux barricades!” The heart though, and it’s a deep and wonderful heart, is made up of “Blake’s Jerusalem” and Eric Bogle’s “My Youngest Son Came Home Today,” great material to begin with but powerfully moving in Bragg’s bare, craggy renditions. These songs are the best political art, non-ideological and concerned with the fundamental aspects of the human soul in nature and society. You may not want to hear these songs all the time, but there are times when you will want, and need, to hear these songs.