Billy Bragg & Joe Henry
Railway stations, boxcars, and waiting rooms make for strange musical bedfellows. A 2,728 mile, four-day long train journey from Chicago to Los Angeles brought together irascible British punk-folkster Billy Bragg and American musical-limit-tester and critic’s treasure Joe Henry. The pair started at Union Station and recorded songs at every 20-plus minute stop, denuding covers of masters like Gordon Lightfoot and Hank Williams, and adapting classics like Woody Guthrie’s signature song, “Hobo’s Lullaby.” They recorded on platforms, in train cars, waiting rooms and stairwells, thus infusing the essence of the journey into every note.
While the pair recorded vintage songs at places boasting faded glory, their journey and song selections ratify the truths of today. They sing for both the the brakeman and the hobo, the established and the illicit, giving each equal weight in a world once again thrust into the nuclear shadow of us or them. They invite people on their journey, showing snapshots of the Dirty Thirties, of railroads forged by hammer and hand, of the great lost gathering places like Chicago’s Union Station.
And while Bragg and Henry may seem like an odd couple, their congruent histories as seasoned musical explorers bring them together. These songs may stem from Henry’s American turf, but they are re-drawn through Bragg’s British eyes. Their voices blend like a good marriage but each keeps their own style, working totally in harmony while inviting variance. They play guitar for guitar, heart for heart, uncovering moments of beauty and despair.