As one of the UK’s leading solo songwriters, and possessor of one of pop music’s more distinctive voices, Billy Bragg has a sound and style all of his own. The Folk/Americana performer Joe Henry has a similar pedigree, and they team up to idiosyncratic effect on their new album of duets, Shine a Light.
The album of covers, of songs associated with travel, trains, and leaving was recorded out in the field, at the bus stops and train stations of America, so although the studio perfection we have come to expect is missing, there is something a bit different in this recording. So, familiar songs, like 'Rock Island Line' become different beasts to how Leadbelly, or even Lonnie Donegan saw them, whilst Gordon Lightfoot’s 'Early Morning Rain' which closes the album has the accompaniment of early morning crickets.
The nuances of rhythmic guitars, and the two voices are well captured, in spirited performances, which help to showcase the deep respect for the material, and for each other the two performers have. Better singers could have harmonised all over the place, but the simplicity of the singing, playing, and arrangements is one of the main strengths of this release.
Leadbelly’s 'Midnight Special' is perhaps the most spirited rendition, whilst the down home styles of such performers as Hank Williams, Woody Gutherie, The Carter Family, and Jimmie Rogers are well captured. So, although there is nothing that is new in this release, the passion with which the two storied performers play, and the nature of the recording means that there will be something here for fans of both Billy Bragg, and Joe Henry, as well as anybody looking for something completely different to add to their album collections.