What I Missed In 2016: Joe Henry and Billy Bragg’s Record on the Rails

Since I launched this blog in March, I have tried to write about as many wonderful things as I can, in essays, the podcast, and every Friday in the New Release Roundup. Try as I might, I can’t write about all the good stuff coming out. This will be my annual attempt to correct that. For the next ten days, I’ll be highlighting albums I missed in 2016. To cast an even wider net, I’ve enlisted some talented friends to write about some of their favorites this year. Look for that later today.

Billy Bragg & Joe HenryShine A Light: Field Recordings From The Great American Railroad
Sometimes the simple ideas are best. For this album, Billy Bragg and Joe Henry hopped aboard a train from Chicago to Los Angeles and recorded blues and folk staples from “John Henry” and Lead Belly’s “The Midnight Special” to John Hartford’s “Gentle On My Mind” on platforms and waiting rooms. It’s two voices and two guitars, recorded live. Billy takes the low, Joe takes the high, and their voices blend beautifully. You can hear the trains pulling in and people milling about the platforms around them. Wind blows over the mics before anyone sings a word on Hank Williams Sr.’s “Lonesome Whistle,” and it’s easy to picture the two singers outside the station, playing side-by-side to no one in particular. Their harmonies add a bit of sweetness to Lead Belly’s “In the Pines.” That takes some of the menace out of it, but emphasizes the loneliness at its core. Henry’s voice reinvigorates “Gentle On My Mind,” and Bragg sounds natural singing Jean Ritchie’s coal miner’s lament “The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore.”

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