Other People is The Rails’ second album, but the first to be widely circulated and promoted in the U.S. It was released in the U.K. in October 2017 but is being released in the U.S. for the duo’s first stateside tour this summer. Their first album, 2014’s Fair Warning, got rave reviews in the U.K.
The Rails, if you don’t know, is Kami Thompson and James Walbourne, although if you follow contemporary folk and folk-rock music at all, you probably know that. And yes, Kami is one of those Thompsons, the youngest offspring of Richard and Linda. Walbourne, her musical partner and spouse, is a hot-shot guitarist who’s played lead for The Pretenders, Edwyn Collins and Ray Davies.
I’ve not heard that first album but understand it leans heavily in the folk direction. For this one they’ve plugged in a bit more and James has cut loose a time or two, leading them to call it “folk-rock on steroids.”
“With the first album,” Kami says, “we decided to make a ’70s-sounding folk-rock record, but this time, we focused our energies on addressing what was happening around us.”
The album has 10 originals and four covers, and in spite of the above not all of it is steroid-laden. That includes the lovely opener “The Cally.” I’m glad the one-sheet explained the origins of this one because it’s very London-centric. That title is the nickname of Caledonia Road in London, one of those that leads to Kings Cross Station and also the name of a pub on that road. Walbourne’s grandfather frequented The Cally pub, and this lovely paean to a pre-gentrified London is something of a memorial to the late Sidney Walbourne. This lovely video plays the song over home-movie footage from the Postwar era to fine effect.
“Brick And Mortar” takes on the same subject but with much more venom, both lyrically and in Walbourne’s stabbing guitar lead that wouldn’t be out of place on a Richard Thompson record. That and his bitter-tinged vocal stylings let you know his and Kami’s feelings about London’s gentrification by fat cats with checkbooks in their hands.
And similar sentiments inspired the album’s title track, but they’re expressed in a lighter manner with more folk and less rock – a lilting accordion even gives a bit of a sea-shanty feel to it. But the message to politicians, businesspeople and anyone who values money over people is similar, the verses delivered in Kami’s warm alto, with the two singing harmony on the chorus: “There are other people in this world, not just you.”
A song called “Leaving The Land” might be expected to be about Irish dispossession, but here it’s of a piece with some of the other songs on this album about economic times forcing English city-dwellers from their homes. It starts as a lovely folk waltz with the duo singing in harmony but kicks into a driving, bitter bridge after the sad chorus about “leaving the land I love.”
Kami and James met during the recording sessions for her mum’s 2007 album Versatile Heart. Their song “Dark Times” wouldn’t be a surprise to find on any Linda Thompson record. It tells a melancholy tale of a woman lost along the way, its mood underscored by a droning chord organ and sadly twanging baritone guitar, which is supplanted by a sharply discordant solo in the bridge. The song that’s closest in spirit to R&T, though, is “Shame” with its upbeat melody and downbeat lyrics that seem to be from the mouth of an abusive man justifying his violence.
The final four tracks move more in the direction of traditional folk. James sings lead on “Australia,” a ballad of a young exile to the prison continent back in the day. They show off Everly-like harmonies on the equally forlorn “I Wish, I Wish” about a lass who foolishly trusted a fellow who said he loved her. “Willow Tree” has a very traditional sound and more lovely harmonies. And the album wraps up with Edwyn Collins’s very sobering “Low Expectations.”
This strongly British album was produced by an American and the rhythm section is likewise from across the pond. Nashville-based musician and producer Ray Kennedy of Steve Earle’s noted “Twang Trust” produced, while Cody Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars) sat behind the drums and Jim Boquist (Son Volt) played bass. Solid lineup indeed. But the secret weapon, of course, is the chemistry between the two leads, plus their songwriting smarts, James’s guitar chops and their lovely vocal blend. Kami Thompson and James Walbourne are gifted musicians with something to say as artists. That makes The Rails’ Other People a deeply engaging folk-rock excursion.
The Rails are touring the U.S. in July, and hitting some great venues including The Ryman in Nashville and Mercury Lounge in New York. More information on their website.
(Psychonaut Recordings, 2018)