Political folk punk pioneer Billy Bragg and alt country inventor Joe Henry are performing together on a special tour that comes to York’s Grand Opera House next week.
The pair of singer-songwriters are touring in support of their new album, Shine A Light: Field Recordings From The Great American Railroad. It features covers of rail-themed songs that preceded the rock’n’roll era and was recorded over the course of a 65-hour train journey across the US. Among the artists that Bragg and Henry pay homage to on this album are Lead Belly, Hank Williams, Glen Campbell and Jimmie Rodgers.
Henry and Bragg packed their guitars and recording equipment and boarded the Texas Eagle railroad service at Chicago’s Union Station in March 2016. Their journey took them to such places as St Louis, Fort Worth, San Antonio, El Paso and others, where they set up their recording equipment in waiting rooms, performed songs and then boarded the train again just before it left. They recorded their final song in the Union Station in Los Angeles, which was the last stop on their journey.
Bragg spoke of how American railroad songs inspired both him and the future of popular music in the US and UK. He said: “Railroad songs provided the bedrock of American popular music, from Jimmie Rodgers, the Singing Brakeman, to Lead Belly, whose repertoire provided several of the songs for this project. In this country, Lonnie Donegan’s 1956 hit ‘Rock Island Line’ sparked the skiffle craze, inspiring a generation of British teens to pick up guitars and form the groups that invaded America in the 60s, from the Beatles to Led Zeppelin.
“Growing up in the UK, I’d always been aware of this tradition but, when I travelled to the US, I was surprised to find how few people look to the railroad as a means of transport. With this project, we wanted to explore the transformative power that the coming of the railroad had on the lives of ordinary people by taking these songs back to the places that inspired their creation.”
Henry, who has won Grammy awards for his work as a producer, previously worked with Bragg to produce his 2013 album Tooth & Nail. It was recorded at Henry’s house over the course of five days and explored the Americana and alt country genres.
Shine A Light, which both artists perform on, reached number one on the UK Americana album chart and number 28 on the UK album chart.
They will perform at the Grand Opera House on January 24th and will perform songs from their latest album and more.