Music Review: Billy Bragg and Joe Henry's Shine A light Tour at York Grand Opera House

By Steve Jadd | 28th January 2017

Billy Bragg and Joe Henry, What's On York

Billy Bragg and Joe Henry

Billy Bragg is a music troubadour and left-wing political activist – with the ongoing saga that is Brexit and the current controversy surrounding the present-day occupant of The White House - Billy as always had much to shout about.

Joe Henry is an American singer songwriter, guitarist and longstanding buddy of Billy. Having originally met via Joe’s publicist wife, over thirty years ago. Henry is an established musician whose songs don’t fit into an easily defined box – his music is an amalgam of blues with a sprinkling of jazz, rock and pop and traces the rugged history of American storytelling.

In March 2016 Billy Bragg and Joe Henry, guitars in hand, boarded a Los Angeles-bound train at Chicago’s Union Station looking to reconnect with the culture of American railroad travel and the music it inspired. Winding along 2,728 miles of track over four days, the pair recorded classic railroad songs in waiting rooms and at track-side while the train paused to pick up passengers.

It somehow seemed appropriate their Shine A Light Tour should gradually weave it’s way from the USA to York, UK and the home of George Hudson, known as the ‘Railway King’ an English railway financier and politician who through dubious financial practices controversially controlled a significant part of the railway network in the 1840s.

Whether Billy and Henry arrived on the cold steel rails is uncertain – but they certainly arrived.

Billy and Henry played songs from their American journey, along with favourites from their own back- catalogues. With soulful renditions of Gordon Lightfoot’s - Early Morning Rain and Doc Watson’s - John Henry as well as In The Pines and Railroad Bill, Bragg also included his own re-imagining of the Bob Dylan classic The Times They Are A- Changin’ in The Times They Are A- Changing Back.

Billy Bragg and Joe Henry make an interesting collaboration and rewarding musical journey through a timeless landscape that resonates with the realities of the politics of the present day.

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