Folk Rock Renewal and Pink Labels
The story of this release has been one of British folk rock royalty and revivals of rare record labels and musical genres. These things underlie the beautiful harmonies and guitar work of husband-and-wife team Kami Thompson and James Walbourne on their recently released record, Fair Warning. The release represents something of a revival of the British folk rock style made popular by Kami Thompson’s parents, Richard and Linda Thompson. Think back to the days of Fairport Convention and you get an idea of the kind of pressure laid on this pair. They are most certainly not seeking to fill her parent’s shoes, but rather to do their due diligence to continue to keep this music vibrant. After all, pop music tends to be the dominant force in the British music industry. Who can forget the era of the Spice Girls and other pop ensembles? In the face of that culture, you could argue that Thompson and Walbourne are doing God’s work.
Of course this renaissance of British folk rock has received the blessing of Island Records, which released Fair Warning. A little research turns up the lore of the Island Records Pink Label, which featured Thompson’s parents back in the seventies, along with the likes of Nick Drake and Traffic, among others before being shelved. Well, it seems Island Records has chosen to revive this label for the release of The Rails single featuring the songs “Bonnie Portmore” and “Younger.” This is a well-deserved blessing. Not only is the music worthy, but Walbourne himself represents royalty of a new generation of British folk rock musicians. He’s known as a wicked guitar player who’s worked with The Pogues and Son Volt among others, and you can hear it in the music.
That brings us to the music itself. The harmonies are beautiful and sometimes heartbreaking, and have drawn comparisons to American alt country royalty, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. The songs are a combination of traditionals and originals that all interestingly have some element of modern messages. Take a song like “Panic Attack Blues” which deals with a recently described phenomenon and one that is arguably more frequent given the constant bombardment of bad news from the media. The message might be heavy, but the song is pretty rockin’ with great electric guitar work from Walbourne.
The modern fare is juxtaposed with something like the opening track “Bonnie Portmore,” a traditional Irish folk song lamenting the destruction of Ireland’s old oak forests. In the context of a revival of this music, it could be read as a plea for global conservation, depending on how hard you’re willing to look. Politics aside, this is a welcome revival from a pair of musicians well-placed to lead the charge.