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Billy Bragg is best known for his progressive folk rock music, making several hit albums in Britain.
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In 1986, Bragg got a taste of his first real commercial success with Talking With the Taxman About Poetry, an album that broke into the Top 10 on the U.K. charts. Bragg followed up in 1987 with the collection Back to Basics, a compilation of his first three releases. Bragg's early sound tended to be stark and sparse, with most songs featuring only the singer's voice and his electric guitar. On Talking With the Taxman, Bragg and his producers began to broaden his sound,
adding additional instrumentation in the form of occasional horn and piano parts.
On his next record, 1988's Workers Playtime, Bragg continued in this direction, playing with a full backup band. For the next 10 years, Bragg continued to work and tour, building a reputation as a folk-rock troubadour.
In the late 1990s, Bragg was contacted by Nora Guthrie, the daughter of American folk music legend Woody Guthrie, and asked to collaborate with the band Wilco in setting some of Woody Guthrie's unrecorded lyrics to new music. The resulting album, Mermaid Avenue, won praise from critics and charted in both Britain and the United States upon its release in 1998. A somewhat less successful sequel, Mermaid Avenue Vol. 2, which followed the same recipe of rare Guthrie compositions, put to new music by Bragg and Wilco, followed in 2000.
Bragg's 2002 album England, Half-English and his 2006 book The Progressive Patriot reflect the musician's growing fascination with questions of local politics and national identity. His views on multiracial Britain and social issues such as homophobia and sexism have garnered him vocal enemies on the right. Undeterred by the pushback, the rocker remains a frequent participant in political demonstrations and benefit concerts around the world. He famously announced in 2010 he would withhold all income tax as a protest against huge bonuses being paid out to executives at the Royal Bank of Scotland, which had earlier been bailed out by British taxpayers following the financial crisis of 2008.
In addition to his political activism, Bragg pursues charity work, including a prison education project called Jail Guitar Doors, which aims to supply inmates with guitars to aid in their rehabilitation. The star is also a spokesman for a recording-artist rights group called the Featured Artists Coalition.
Despite a lifelong commitment to blending politics and music, Bragg remains humble about his impact: "You can't change the world through music, but you can give people a different perspective on the world."
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