Music

Billy Bragg and Joe Henry: Shine a Light: Field Recordings From the Great American Railroad

Bragg and Henry’s latest is a resounding statement on the foundation of one of the greatest achievements of American backbone.


Billy Bragg and Joe Henry

Shine a Light: Field Recordings From the Great American Railroad

Label: Cooking Vinyl
US Release Date: 2016-09-23
UK Release Date: 2016-09-23
Amazon
iTunes

For those not in the know, that a British punk rock artist and an American-born alt-Americana-slash-jazz musician would be joining forces for a record celebrating some of the most traditional American folk songs would be an odd proposition to consider. Well, it still is, but it’s one with passion and meaning behind it.

Billy Bragg and Joe Henry are on a mission with their latest record to release the idea that not only did the times surrounding the foundation of the Great American Railroad mark for a great leap forward in travel for the world, but it also had a fair amount to do with the shaping of popular music structure in both America and Britain to this day. Furthermore, their convergence of artistic styles in regards to arrangement and performing represent a means of paying respects to those who put their backs into it, working arduous, tireless days and nights through sickness, death, and poor payouts in part to have their hand in forming the infrastructure of an industrial revolution.

Shine a Light: Field Recordings from the Great American Railroad was recorded by Bragg and Henry quite literally on-field throughout the aforementioned railroad, in waiting rooms and platforms beside the tracks at Union and Central tracks between Chicago and Los Angeles. After nearly 3,000 miles worth of travel, the inimitable duo took themselves out of Union Station and saw themselves finally recording their rendition of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Early Morning Rain” to cap things off. A respectful effort in and of itself, the album is elevated by the level of intrinsic personal collaboration at work throughout the 13 covers produced by Bragg and Henry as a duo.

With a mutual respect for the history set into their project, they set forth with a glimmering admiration of the tracks that made their travels possible and for the artists who had originally written and recorded the material that they are performing in lieu of the Great American Railroad. For those who know Bragg and Henry, however, their ability to articulate a song in a professional manner is not exactly uncommon for either of the two, and never has throughout their collective 69 years active in music thus far. Forgoing the typically great musicality presented on the record courtesy of the two seasoned artists, the album mostly shines because of their choice of how to go about developing it.

With the opportunity to leave the studio and embark on a train ride as Bragg and Henry had done in order to develop Shine a Light, the duo have done the history of the Great American Railroad that much more of a favor. By travelling thousands of miles on the tracks that tireless men had built for little to no recognition, it can likely be accurately assessed that it offered itself not only as a fun time for the two during their musical journey, but an enlightening one, as well. From “Rock Island Line”, to their incredible takes on “The Midnight Special” and “Hobo’s Lullaby”, and beyond, Bragg and Henry’s latest is a resounding statement on the foundation of one of the greatest achievements of American backbone and its influence on the world.

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.