In the past week, Billy Bragg has penned and recorded a pair of new songs dealing with specifically American issues, and both take legendary American musicians as their template. The first, and better, of the two reworks Bob Dylan's achingly moving protest song "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" into a beautiful and angry tribute to young American peace activist Rachel Corrie, who was crushed to death by an Israeli armored bulldozer while trying to protect a Palestinian home in 2003. Bragg was moved to write the song, called "The Lonesome Death of Rachel Corrie," after the director of the New York Theater Workshop decided to postpone the debut of a play based on Corrie's writings because of its controversial themes. (The play was meant to open on March 22, but has since been staged in London.) "[She] wasn't a bomber or a killer or fighter / But one who acted in the spirit of the Freedom Riders / Is there no place for a voice in America / That doesn't conform to the Fox News agenda?" asks Bragg. The second is an updating of Leadbelly's "Bourgeois Blues" into a self-explanatory "Bush War Blues" -- recorded by a worn-out, post-U.S.-touring Bragg as his husky-voiced alter ego "Johnny Clash."
It's debatable whether Pete Doherty really has the musical talent to make his ongoing drug-fueled antics anything more interesting than just your everyday rock 'n' roll acting out, but Rolling Stone goes into full New Journalism mode as it joins the former Libertines singer and current Babyshambles frontman on a long, dark night of druggy excess.
Best-album-ever lists tend to be pretty generic (they almost all include some combination of "Pet Sounds," "What's Going On" and "Revolver"), but British rock mag Q has attempted the far more imaginative task of naming the 10 worst LPs of all time. The list is fairly Brit-centric, with only Lou Reed's "Metal Machine Music" and the "Urban Renewal" album (rap versions of Phil Collins songs) flying the flag for the U.S., but it is easy for anyone to imagine the horror of records like Irish boy-band Westlife's Sinatra tribute album, "Allow Us to Be Frank." As for the worst album ever: According to Q, it's "Thank You," a 1995 covers album by Duran Duran. Among the record's many ill-advised highlights, witness the brave folly of four white, British New Romantic teeny-boppers performing "911 Is a Joke" by Public Enemy.
-- Matt Glazebrook