Billy Bragg performing railroad songs while crossing America with acclaimed singer songwriter Joe Henry….what a simple, yet incredible concept. This has winner written all over it.
Bragg, one of the UK’s finest storytellers, is of course well versed in American roots music having explored the genre in the past – his most notable work being the Mermaid Avenue album of previously unreleased Woody Guthrie songs that Bragg put together with American country rock band Wilko. This project then was always going to be a good fit.
And so it proves. Bragg fits the troubadour singer mold perfectly, and you can hear the enthusiasm which he brings to these songs – no doubt a lot of influence there. Henry proving a fine choice as travelling companion – treating this material as the traditional song of his homeland. The harmonies the two strike up are especially impressive.
Songs made famous by legends including Hank Williams and Leadbelly feature, as well as a few slightly more modern numbers (I say modern – probably nothing later than the 60’s but then we’re going back some distance for much of this material!).
The main hook to this record is that all the songs are recorded during the journey – a 65 hour, near 3,000 mile trip across the US. Performances in waiting rooms and on platforms, with the sounds of everyday life going on around them. It’s raw, stripped back – but really emotive, really heartwarming stuff.
It’s a pleasure to see Bragg step away from his tried and tested politically tinged songs – especially at a time when he no doubt has so much source material! It shows again what a fine artist he has been over the last 30 years. This album has also allowed me to discover Joe Henry, evidently a fine singer and guitar player who I will be checking out.
So all in all – a really good record. Songs sung the way they were intended all those years ago – by two friends who respect and appreciate it. First class
Review by Phil Daniels
Also see Billy & Joe on Tour in Novemeber
7 LONDON Union Chapel
8 LONDON Union Chapel
9 CANTERBURY The Marlowe Theatre
10 BRIGHTON St.George’s Church
12 PORTSMOUTH New Theatre Royal
13 COVENTRY Warwick Arts Centre
14 GUILDFORD G Live
15 BURY ST EDMUNDS The Apex
17 NOTTINGHAM Playhouse
18 MANCHESTER The Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM)
19 LINCOLN The Engine Shed