THE RAILS – There Are Other People In This World Not Just You (The Orchard PSYCHED CD010)

Other PeopleTheir debut album Fair Warning, being one of the finest folk albums of 2014, expectations were high for a follow-up from Kami Thompson and James Walbourne. They have been matched and, in some cases, exceeded. As you’ll be well aware Thompson is the daughter of Richard and Linda and, as with the debut, the folk rock musical DNA is well evidenced here.

Produced by Ray Kennedy and recorded in Nashville, it opens with ‘The Cally’, a song that (originally released on the ltd edition Australia EP) pulls off the difficult trick of sounding like a hybrid of both vintage RT and Shane MacGowan. With vocals and harmonium by James (who, of course also happens to play with The Pogues), it’s a lament for the changes being wrought on the London landscape with no regard for tradition and history, the title being a reference to the Caledonian Road, filtered through his grandfather’s memories. Likewise, the brooding “Brick And Mortar” on which he sings about another boozer taking its final bow and the dismantling and selling off of old London (specifically Denmark Street, Soho, St Giles, and Camden, victims of Crossrail) to developers, fat cats and the highest bidders.

Indeed, a protest theme – both in political and personal terms – runs throughout. The title track. on which Kami sings lead and features an immediately catchy title line refrain, concerns me-ism and looking out for others while, also sung by Kami, both the traditional styled waltzer ‘Leaving The Land’ (about emigration) with its rousing mid-section guitar break, and the slow march tempo ‘Mansion Of Happiness’, with Walbourne on mandola, deal with the personal outcomes of austerity Britain.

In terms of relationships, the verse sharing ‘Drowned In Blue’, another slow march tempo and again reminiscent of Thompson Snr, concerns how they can become a war of attrition, while, arguably the album standout, the strongly melodic ‘Dark Times’ is about domestic abuse, unusually sung from the perspective of the perpetrator, and features both deep twanging guitar and an 60s-sounding organ solo straight from the Ray Manzarak manual.

Elsewhere, ‘Late Surrender’ nods to twanging Americana noir, while the chorus powerfully calls to mind Thompson’s parents’ early albums, ending in another fiery guitar break from her husband and, the opening of the depression-focused ‘Hanging On’ nods to the medieval troubadour tradition before settling into a slow march folk rock rhythm. And then there’s ‘Shame’, which returns to James’ lead vocals for a remonstration about taking responsibility for your actions, slipping in both a football reference and, in the phrase ‘time to ring the changes’, a lyrical and musical nod to one of Richard’s classics. With their debut, The Rails set themselves a high bar, this clears it with ease.

Mike Davies

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‘The Cally’ – official video:

Malcolm Holcombe – new album

Malcolm Holcombe

In the end, who can explain the secret of endurance? Why does one marriage last and another does not? Why does one song or album catch our ear while others, arguably as good, slip past us? What convinces an artist or musician to continue pursuing the craft in a time of audiences with short attention spans and diminishing financial returns?

On the eve of releasing Another Black Hole, his fourteenth album (including a duet album cut with North Carolina music legend Sam Milner back in the 80s), Malcolm Holcombe is in no mood to ponder such things. “They’re free to like it or change the CD or completely ignore it,” he says over the telephone from New Haven, CT. “It all depends on how bad their conscience is.”

Those who have paid attention to Holcombe’s music will find more of what they expect here: Holcombe’s rasping vocals and bright, percussive guitar accentuating his insightful lyrics. A few of Holcombe’s longtime musical compatriots show up to help him out, most notably Jared Tyler, who plays guitar, banjo, mandolin, dobro and offers background harmonies and rock solid rhythm section David Roe on bass and Ken Coomer on drums. Swamp pop legend Tony Joe White plays electric guitar on a number of cuts, including the hard rocking ‘Papermill Man’, and the visionary percussionist Futureman, also known as Roy Wooten, inventor of the drumitar, lends percussion on several cuts. Drea Merritt drops by to sing harmonies as well.

Last year, Holcombe released The RCA Sessions, a retrospective of his two decades of recordings. For most of this time, Malcolm has handled his own career from his hometown of Swannanoa, NC, a few miles down the road from Weaverville, where he was born in 1955. Another Black Hole does not indicate a change of direction for Holcombe, only a widening and deepening of the groove he has worked for most of his years playing and singing. Lyrically, the songs mingle Holcombe’s off the cuff wisdom and sharp-eyed commentary on the human condition. Without staking a political or spiritual position, Holcombe’s songs make it clear that he sees his place with those who suffer at the end of the “suits and ties in the cubicles”, as he sings in ‘To Get By’. But because he sees things in human terms and in the terms of survival, Holcombe heads down to “Rice’s Grocery down on Main Street/ We got credit there.”

Ray Kennedy, who has produced several of Malcolm’s albums, including Another Black Hole, says,

“Malcolm Holcombe is fiercely striking every time you encounter him on or off stage. You just get sucked into his extraordinary world of the twisting of words and wisdom that come from a bottomless well. The melodies and fierce rhythms wrap his narrative into an event where you find yourself at his unique musical carnival. Then suddenly he slays you with a sweet love ballad or a sarcastic social commentary.”

In ‘Leavin’ Anna’, Holcombe croons “A working man’s a working man/ Makes the flowers grow.” The labourers, the displaced, the papermill worker, the man who spends “nickels and dimes like hundred dollar bills”, these are Malcolm Holcombe’s people and the ones who live in his songs. But he is far less interested in talking about his own songs than in talking about other musicians whose names come up in the course of a conversation.

When country singing legend Don Williams is mentioned, Malcolm says, “I used to listen to that Portrait album all the time”, and asks if Williams played a couple of his more popular songs in a recent concert. He also speaks fondly of Les Paul and, later, of Keith Richards: “He’s rock and roll all day long, ain’t he?”

Recently Warren Haynes, another musician native to western North Carolina, has mentioned Malcolm’s name in interviews. Typically, Holcombe was unaware of this, but filled with praise for Haynes.

“He’s a real gentleman. I’m glad to call him a friend”, he says. “He taught me how to bend a string on a guitar.”

Chances are that Another Black Hole will not be mentioned at Grammy time, but it is a strong addition to an ever-strengthening catalogue of music made by a humble craftsman in western North Carolina. “It is Malcolm’s perception of the world that make his songs hit you like a gunpowder blast. His gruff and tough delivery is a primordial power full of grit, spit and anthropomorphic expression”, says Ray Kennedy. Trends come and go. What is real is the ground beneath our feet, the sky above us, the struggle to earn a living. These are Malcolm Holcombe’s timeless subjects and the spin he puts on them makes our journey here more bearable.

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Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us. Can’t find what you are looking for? Search Amazon Store below.

Artist’s website: www.malcolmholcombe.com

The making of Another Black Hole: