Their 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.
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‘The Cally’ – official video: