Billy Bragg & Joe Henry, Shine A Light

English singer-songwriter Billy Bragg and American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and producer Joe Henry have joined forces to release their latest album Shine A Light.

By Jane Howkins.

   Shine A Light is the latest album to be released by political folk singer Billy Bragg, and this time around he is joined by fellow singer-songwriter Joe Henry. At first we were a little sceptical about the idea of the two writing an album together (such collaborations can often be seen as moneymaking gambits), however Shine A Light has turned out to be a wonderful piece of americana that is as worthy on your CD rack as the solo albums of these two artists.

The concept of Shine A Light is thus: it’s a railroad album, recorded across numerous railway stations across America, with songs recorded in waiting rooms and on platforms, instead of in a normal studio. If we’re being honest, it’s not a particularly new idea for Bragg (he did a similar thing in the U.K. over three decades ago), but it is an interesting concept.

Bragg and Henry have clearly both tried to convey a sense of being ‘down to earth’ here and that is admirable, although at times it can come across as a little forced. However, for the most part it’s great, and the background noises of people clapping and joining in with the musicians feels genuine in a way that most other americana records fall flat. It’s almost as if this is a live recording, but with a focus instead on good old-fashioned folk music, rather than the stylistic pizazz that usually accompanies such gigs.

It certainly sounds like the pair were having a lot of fun when they recorded Shine A Light, and reviews have also been good about the recent live shows the pair have done together, so perhaps there is something more ‘real’ here than first imagined. We’re intrigued to find out whether the pair will continue working together, and if so, what their next project will be!