The Rails: Fair Warning - With all the music that is floating around these days, it is easy to find yourself being inundated with sounds, beats, music that is more concerned with standing out by being the quirkiest or kitchiest; as if that somehow translates into good music. And with that school of thought becoming more and more prevalent, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a record of straightforward, catchy, honest-to-goodness music. We all need those records that we can play all the way through, just listening to the lyrics, singing along to the melody; songs that make you want to pick up your acoustic guitar you got when you were 14 and just learn the chords because something about the music is accessible, while still special. Well, on The Rails‘ debut album, Fair Warning, this kind of magic happens.
This sleek folk-pop album catches you in its wind and lets you twirl, float and lilt along with the music and solid vocals. The Rails is made up of husband and wife duo, Kami Thompson and James Walbourne. They both play guitar and both have incredible voices, trading off on melodies and harmonies on the vocals. This London-based band adds their own flair to the modern folk scene. Fair Warning is proof of what two talented musicians can achieve when not relying on computers or a slew of programmable beats to make a great pop record. The strongest element of this album is definitely the vocals. The layered guitars, various instances of strings and steady drums are wonderfully done, but for me, are there to supplement the vocals. The Rails balance the play between the mezzo, sometimes alto, of Ms. Kami and baritone of Mr. James; some songs she is lead, others he is, and still there are some where it feels they are both singing their own counter-melodies, blending together beautifully and giving the songs the sing-song vibe of all great folk-pop records.
This album can be thought of as having three types of folk melded together. But remember, these are musicians who know what they are doing; the songs all transition wonderfully and even though some have more distinct styles than others, there is nothing stark or blunt in the way Fair Warning sounds.
The first “sub-genre” of folk on this record can be heard in the opening track, ‘Bonnie Portmore’. I like to think of this as representing the modern folk-pop sound. It has steady, melodic finger-picked acoustic guitars, light percussion, a nice lilting electric guitar- no fuzz, but still that tinge that electricity brings- and, of course, those vocals that are powerful because of how solid the harmonies are locked together. It lilts while still catching the listeners attention, relying on balance rather than volume. With lyrics like, “If I had you now/ as I had once before /all the Lords in old England/ couldn’t purchase Portmore”, it gets the listener thinking. And the song transitions into the second track, which is more upbeat, but still in the same vein of modern folk-pop.
The next sub-genre is one that always gets me excited. I like to think of it as “Pirate-folk”, but you may think of it as a sea shanty or Old-English folk. ‘Jealous Sailor’ has the powerful, bellowing violins, strong bass-drum beat that makes you want to stomp around and swing your partner in the 2/4 time signature. Even the lyrics are blunt about this style, “I am a weary sailor/ and i have some money./ I’d like to get to know ya/ the next time I’m in town.” Mr. James takes the lead on this and plays the part of a sailor man well. This is the kind of song you clap along to and clink your mug of strong ale with the person next to you.
The last kind of folk is one that hold a place in my heart. It is the straight acoustic, finger-plucked, no-frills folk that uses elegant melodies and guitars to discuss somber subjects. ‘Habit’, is just that. It has folksy, bluesy, duel guitars and intricate vocal harmonies. The notes being played and sung evoke a sunny Spring day on a picnic blanket under a shady oak tree. But the vocals bring you down to reality and bring up the somber subject of lost love. “You got me in the habit of missing you./ Each night i struggle with what to do.” It is a simple, catchy folk song that truly showcases the musicianship and stunning voices of The Rails.
So, if you are looking for a great folk-pop record for 2014, this is the one. It is catchy without sacrificing musicianship. It has beautiful vocals that play on the chemistry between Mrs. Kami and Mr. James. Fair Warning is fun to sing along with and just enjoy…. 10/10