Billy Bragg

Billy Bragg

Reaching to the Converted

Rhino

Reaching to the Converted is a hit-or-miss collection of Billy Bragg rarities. When it’s good, it’s fantastic, when it’s bad… it’s meatless. Could the cover of McCartney’s “She’s Leaving Home” really have been a number one hit in England? It’s horrible! And the remake of “Greetings to the New Brunette” — why fix something that isn’t broken?

That said, there are some remarkable moments on this collection. If for nothing else, this disk is worth its cover price for Bragg’s rendition of “Walk Away Renee” (by the Left Banke). Accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, Bragg recounts the trials of a doomed relationship — the thrill of a unique first date, the crushing defeat that comes with the realization that there is someone else. I won’t give the ending away, but there’s a twist that’s sure to bring a smile to your face.

Reaching to the Converted has a lot of covers. There’s a strong remake of Ry Cooder’s “The Tattler” — a Motown flavored petition for fidelity between couples. Another highlight is Bragg’s version of the classic anti-nuclear war anthem “Think Again,” which pleads for reason between Cold War superpowers. “Do you think that the Russians want war?” Bragg asks. “These are the people whose children were killed in the last one.” Didn’t Sting say something like that in the ’80s, too?

Stronger versions of “Days Like These” and “Jeanne” can be found on The Peel Sessions disc, if it’s still in print. The version of “Ontario, Quebec and Me” from the Live Bootleg CD (with the Red Stars) is better than the one found here. Reaching to the Converted won’t win any new fans, but as the title indicates, that’s not its intention. A good assortment of hard to find B-sides, this disc serves as filler while we wait for the second collection of Woody Guthrie songs to be released later this year (with Wilco).

Rhino Records, 10635 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025; http://www.rhino.com

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