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Shine a Light: Field Recordings from the Great American Railroad

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Album Review

There isn't much that a folkie loves more than a train. The images and lore of an engine rolling down the tracks, taking both ticketed riders and boxcar-hopping hobos to new destinations and grand adventures, are staples of American songwriting, both past and present. So it's no great surprise that two accomplished part-time folkies, Billy Bragg and Joe Henry, would cook up a project like Shine a Light: Field Recordings from the Great American Railroad. For this album, Bragg and Henry booked a rail trip from Chicago to Los Angeles aboard the Texas Eagle 421 Service, bringing a recording engineer and a portable recording rig with them. At various stops along the way, the duo recorded classic blues, folk, and country songs with railway themes at various train stations and boarding platforms (except for one tune cut at the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, Texas, where iconic bluesman Robert Johnson recorded some of his best-known recordings in 1936). Bragg approaches this material with the utmost seriousness and respect, and Henry possesses a clearer and more pleasing voice. The two men chose material that perfectly suits the theme, including "John Henry," "Hobo's Lullaby," and "Rock Island Line," and Bragg and Henry sing them with sincerity and respect.

Biography

Born: December 20, 1957 in Barking Town Hall, London, Englan

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Finding inspiration in the righteous anger of punk rock and the socially conscious folk tradition of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, Billy Bragg was the leading figure of the anti-folk movement of the '80s. For most of the decade, Bragg bashed out songs alone on his electric guitar, singing about politics and love. While his lyrics were bitingly intelligent and clever, they were also warm and humane, filled with detail and wit. Even though his lyrics were carefully considered, Bragg never neglected...
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