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In 1983, Billy Bragg was a guy with a cheap electric guitar, a rough but passionate voice, and a knack for writing and singing straight from the heart whether he was discussing leftist political concerns or the mysterious interactions between men and women. The guy has a band and the political issues that have caught his attention are trickier 20 years later, but he's still enchanted and puzzled by love, and hasn't stopped writing worthwhile songs about it. Must I Paint You a Picture? The Essential Billy Bragg is a three-disc, 50-song compilation that does an admirable job of capturing the hills and valleys of Bragg's recording career, opening up with "A New England" from his debut EP, Life's a Riot With Spy vs. Spy, and closing with a cut from 2002's England, Half English. A spin through this set suggests that Bragg's best (or at least most affecting) work arrived in the early stages of his career, as disc one (which follows Bragg through Worker's Playtime) is a decidedly more solid and absorbing listen than disc two (the material from the disappointing William Bloke in particular weighs down the collection's second act), and his love songs have stood the test of time a shade better than his political material (the miners' strike may be over, but broken hearts are timeless). But there are plenty of gems to be found throughout this collection, and Must I Paint You a Picture? serves as a potent reminder that in the grand tradition of Bob Dylan, even Bragg's lesser albums contain a handful of truly memorable songs worth hearing; if this isn't the ideal Billy Bragg collection, it's an excellent introduction, a solid career overview, and a lovely reminder of how much he has to say about the heart and the mind. Initial pressings come with a ten-song bonus disc that adds several hard to find selections, including Bragg's Anglophile rewrite of "Route 66," a telling duet with the late Ted Hawkins, and a bootleg remix that merges Bragg with the Hives.