Billy Bragg & Joe Henry @ St Patrick’s Cathedral - Sat 28th Jan 2017

This seemingly unlikely pairing of an English folk/protest singer and an American songwriter/producer has recently released Shine A Light: Field Recordings from the Great American Railroad. For the project, they booked a rail trip from Chicago to Los Angeles and recorded classic blues, folk, and country songs with railway themes at various train stations along the way.

Tonight, they combine to deliver a concert of great focus and honest sentiment in at a venue where the regal surroundings call for a fitting tribute to the old ghosts of past generations. There is an iconic image of freedom that attaches to the romance of the railroad and train journeys across the great plains.

Songs from The Carter Family (Railroading On The Great Divide), Hank Williams (Lonesome Whistle), Leadbelly (Midnight Special), Johnny Cash (The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore), Ramblin’ Jack Elliot (Railroad Bill), Jimmie Rogers (Waiting for a Train), Woody Guthrie (Hobos Lullaby), Bill Monroe (In the Pines), are played by these two talented performers. They spark off each other with witty comment and strong story-telling of the great characters that made up the fabric of life in the pioneering days of the old West.

In between performing songs from the new project, each artist takes a solo slot to highlight their back catalogue with some well- chosen songs to suit the occasion. They both speak of current issues, and, as expected, Donald Trump receives much comment. Joe Henry comments on the need for community and shared ideals to take us forward and Billy Bragg sings the classic Bob Dylan ‘The Times they are a-changin’ along with a very timely song from Anais Mitchell ‘Why We Build the Wall’.

Joe Henry sings in a softer tone to Billy Bragg, who attacks the material with his strong English accent. However, the mix of the two different voices does work well and the evening passes pleasantly over a 2-hour set that contained plenty of entertainment for the capacity crowd present.

Review by Paul McGee  Photograph by Vincent Lennon