Friday, 9 December 2016

fair warning

Sometimes you discover something new, and have the oddest feeling that it is very familiar.  Not a false memory, exactly, because you know that it is new to you.  It's just that you feel as though you must have known it for a very long time already.

So it is with my new musical enthusiasm, The Rails, which seems a strange and not particularly catchy name for a very catchy duo.  Presumably it has some significance to them, though I find myself mentally prefacing it with the word Off.  They are Kami Thompson and her husband James Walbourne, and she is the daughter of Richard and Linda Thompson.  I must have heard a track by them on the Radio 2 folk show at some point and liked it enough to add the album to my Amazon wishlist, where it sat for months until a cheap used copy of it popped up on offer from a third party vendor and I bought it.

And they sound uncannily like Richard and Linda Thompson used to back in the 1970s.  Really, really uncannily like.  Kami Thompson has a glorious voice and it is the dead spit of her mum's, a lucky inheritance for her since while Richard Thompson was one of the superlative songwriters and guitar players of the late twentieth century he wouldn't claim that his singing voice had ever been his principal claim to fame.  And James Walbourne is a fabulous guitarist who has been in all sorts of bands, including the Pretenders.  Only on this album he sounds so much like Richard Thompson that if I didn't know it was a 2014 release by somebody else I'd think the album must be some rediscovered Richard Thompson tracks.  The chord progressions, the riffs, it's pure Richard Thompson.

And between them they write very good songs.  Maybe not quite up to the standard of 1952 Vincent Black Lightning but good songs, songs that tell stories, songs in which the characters have narrative arcs or things gradually develop in a direction you don't expect, clever songs with a pungent and poetic use of language.  And thanks to Kami Thompson being a fine singer you can hear all the words so you get the full benefit (which is just as well because the paper insert in the CD box has several moody photos but no lyrics).

The album is called Fair Warning.  As well as Kami Thompson and James Walbourne it features Eliza Carthy on fiddle on quite a few tracks, and maintains a good, tight folk-rock sound throughout.  I have been playing it on repeat when it has been my turn to cook, and I am absolutely delighted with it.  But also disoriented, because it sounds so much like revisiting a part of my past that never actually happened.  Should I think less of it because it is not an original sound?  And does it make a difference if a family dynasty is carrying on an artistic tradition rather than a complete stranger coming along and ripping it off?  I don't know, but I don't honestly care.  I'm just terribly pleased with the album.

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