Behind the Music: RaIL’s “In The River”
How a long-standing musical partnership led to the resurrection of an iconic but massively under-appreciated 80s classic.
The Call were a special kind of anthemic. If the U2 of Boy and War were opaquely Dublin Christian, The Call were Old Testament Revelational.
I remember when I first saw the video for “The Walls Came Down.” I was still just a kid, really. Barely into my teens. MTV was still so new. But I kid you not when I tell you how the urgency of Michael Been’s voice has stayed with me for lo these many decades, and how I still remember hearing that song for the first time.
The band hit #1 in 1989 with “Let the Day Begin.” But two years prior, they released “In the Woods,” which included the song “In the River.” That song, in my mind, ranks as quite possibly the greatest single piece of music the 80s produced.
Virtually everything that matters to me about music was somehow contained in that song. It was Gothic Americana before there was such a thing. It was gritty, and it howled. It was so dark, and so deep, and so spiritual, and so poetic, and so profane, and so bluesy, and so groovy, and so apocalyptic, and it’s just an incredible, incredible song.
When I first heard Will Scott’s voice, I got chills. It wasn’t until I went back to Johnny Shines that I could find the intensity and tremor of a voice like that. What Will Scott can do with the timbre of his tremble and howl, there is no name for. He was born with blood in his trachea. That his soul runs as deep as his throat can be attributed only to the gods.
I met Will in Bushwick, Brooklyn, somewhere in 2001–2002. We started playing shows together almost right away. Eventually, we were able to collaborate on an album, his debut, entitled Gnawbone. I love that record as much as anything I’ve ever been blessed to be a part of.
The idea of singing with Will terrifies me. But “In the River” had this unique, overlapping two-vocal thing that just felt so right for us. And so that’s what we did.
Here I am today, humbled, blessed, and frankly, astonished, to find myself announcing the debut single from RaIL: “In the River.” In many ways, this is the culmination of twenty years’ worth of musical collaboration. Thank you Will, for doing this with me. For being … RaIL.
What is RaIL?
RaIL is an acronym for Roosevelt and Ira Lee. If you don’t know, now you now.
RaIL is trainspeak. My people helped build the Missouri Pacific Railway.
RaIL is Will Scott and Preacher Boy.
Michael Been led The Call. He passed away far too young. His birthday is March 17th. RaIL is honored to re-introduce “In the River” to the world in honor of Mr. Been’s special day.
I hope with all my heart that the living and the dead are moved by this song.
In the River
Here it is on Spotify:
You can, in fact, download the track from any of your favorite digital music platforms. Or, you can support independent music and download the track directly from Coast Road Records!
Mainly, I hope you listen to this. I hope you go back and listen to The Call’s version. And then I hope you listen to both. Forever. That’s how long I’ve been listening to this song, and that’s how long I intend to keep doing so.