The Americana credentials of Billy Bragg are on show for this lively history lesson. Earlier this year he and pal Joe Henry (producer of Bragg’s 2013 album Tooth & Nail), clutching guitars, boarded a Chicago-bound train in LA. Four days and 3,000 miles later they had an album, recorded en route.
Their mode of transport provides the inspiration, as the duo draw from the wells of Lead Belly (Midnight Special, Rock Island Line), Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie. The collection is filled out with a couple of more recent ‘train’ songs, with Bragg’s baritone vocals and Henry’s tenor blending especially sweetly on Gordon Lightfoot’s Early Morning Rain.
The evocative parade of protagonists, from railroad workers to hobos to convicts, maps out a loose socio-economic timeline. The pair celebrate the (literal) tracks that made America, but also lament the railroad’s decline with tenderness on Jean Ritchie’s The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore.