I mentioned in passing the other day that I went to see Billy Bragg & Joe Henry play, promoting their album “Shine A Light : Field Recordings From The Great American Railroad”.
It’s a record I would heartily recommend if you like old American folk, bluegrass and country records, or even if you fancy owning a decent beginner’s guide.
The idea behind the album is that Bragg and Henry went on a long train journey across America; when the train stopped to refuel or change crew, they would try to find somewhere that they could hunker down and record a song for the album. And as well as being recorded on the train line, all of the songs have some links to the railways too.
The gig was great; they pretty much played the whole album, with both artists having a part of the gig to themselves for a while; Henry played some of his own songs and one by Allen Toussant, whose records he often produced; Bragg played the Anaïs Mitchell song I posted on Tuesday night, for all the good it did, along with a couple of old favourites from his own back catalogue. I sensed that quite a few in the crowd were hoping for more from him, but most, including me, came away more than happy with the show we’d just witnessed.
One of the songs on the album is “The Midnight Special”, which has been covered by a multitude of artists from Leadbelly, to Creedence Clearwater Revival, to Burl Ives. It’s a song I was familiar with, a little, but the introduction and explanation they gave on the night – as they did with pretty much every song on the album – certainly added a greater clarity to the lyrics for me.
Here’s a version from 1959 with a slightly amended title. I’ll leave you to ponder the lyrics unassisted: