The Rails are a husband-and-wife folk-rock duo comprised of Kami Thompson and James Walbourne. Thompson is the daughter of another husband-and-wife folk-rock duo, Richard and Linda Thompson, who made some essential albums in the Seventies before giving the world what might be the most gruelingly real divorce record of all time with their 1981 classic Shoot Out the Lights. Walbourne has played guitar in the Pogues and Son Volt and is currently the lead guitarist for the Pretenders. The Rails just released their very good third album, Cancel the Sun, which opens with the bruising “Call Me When It All Goes Wrong.”
The similarity between Thompson’s tough yet burnished, darkly lilting voice and her mother’s is uncanny, as is her ability to render romantic fatalism with visceral passion and intensity. On “Call Me When It All Goes Wrong” she forecasts an impending breakup with the defiant resignation of someone who didn’t care in the first place or really wants it to seem like they didn’t care in the first place: “I’m just your lover/i’m not your friend/Just another ride I was on/One that didn’t last too long,” she sings. The “ride” line evokes one of her parents’ most devastating songs from Shoot Out the Lights, “Wall of Death,” in which a scarily named carnival ride (step right up for the Wall of Death) becomes a metaphor for one last go at an obviously doomed relationship. But this isn’t an homage or a throwback. Walbourne’s cranked up, hard-hitting guitar is more punk than folk, and the song has a big, bracing sound abetted by producer Stephen Street (who made iconic records with the Smiths, Blur and others). The result is an excellent scorched earth version of saying goodbye.
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