Artist News Releases

Billy Bragg and Joe Henry travel the US by train for new album

By | Published on Friday 20 May 2016


Billy Bragg and Joe Henry have teamed up for a new album, ‘Shine A Light: Field Recordings From The Great American Railroad’. The record is made up of covers of railway-themed songs by various artists, recorded along a 65 hour journey across the US on the Texas Eagle railroad service.

Songs on the album were originally made famous by artists including Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Hank Williams, The Carter Family and more. Over 2728 miles, Bragg and Henry jumped off the train to record in stations along the way as the train stopped to pick up passengers. They finished up at Union Station in LA for a performance of Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘Early Morning Rain’ at 4.30am.

“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”, says Bragg. “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”.

He continues: “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. Traveling on the train and recording the songs as we went allowed us to both visit places that were important 125 years ago when the lines were laid, but to also explore the viability of the railroad as a means of transport in the 21st century”.

Henry, who also produced Bragg’s last album ‘Tooth & Nail’, adds: “The emergence of the railroad in America boasted of our might and sprawling enormity, yet signalled a deep desire for close community, connectivity. The songs that grew out of and alongside this innovation remain to tell this story of collective national character”.

The album is due for released on 23 Sep and the pair will tour the UK in November, performing songs from it. Full tracklist and dates here:

1. Rock Island Line – Traditional (Recorded by Lead Belly, Lonnie Donegan)
2. The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore – Jean Ritchie
3. The Midnight Special – Traditional (Lead Belly)
4. Railroad Bill – Traditional (Riley Puckett)
5. Lonesome Whistle – Hank Williams
6. KC Moan – Traditional (The Memphis Jug Band)
7. Waiting For A Train – Jimmie Rodgers
8. In The Pines – Traditional (Lead Belly, The Louvin Brothers)
9. Gentle On My Mind – John Hartford (Glenn Campbell, Aretha Franklin)
10. Hobo’s Lullaby – Goebel Reeves (Woody Guthrie)
11. Railroading On The Great Divide – Sara Carter (The Carter Family)
12. John Henry – Traditional (Doc Watson)
13. Early Morning Rain – Gordon Lightfoot

7 Nov: London, Union Chapel
8 Nov: London, Union Chapel
9 Nov: Canterbury, The Marlowe Theatre
10 Nov: Brighton, St George’s Church
12 Nov: Portsmouth, New Theatre Royal
13 Nov: Coventry, Warwick Arts Centre
14 Nov: Guildford, G Live
15 Nov: Bury St Edmunds, The Apex
17 Nov: Nottingham, Playhouse
18 Nov: Manchester, The Royal Northern College of Music
19 Nov: Lincoln, The Engine Shed