Review Summary: Remember Kinks’ frontman Ray Davies? He’s back… in pog form! I mean, in a renewed, Americanized version with his new solo effort.
It’s not a secret that Kinks’ music has almost always been influenced by American styles. Their humble beginnings, like every early 60s British rock act, were strongly influenced by rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm and blues. During the mid and late 60s, though, the band’s sound started to mature, became more British and went beyond the youthful, upbeat 3-minute rock songs, with the Davies even taking a risk by ignoring the psychedelic stylistics that were invading music back then. Thus the band had a stretch of such big and iconic works as Face to Face, Something Else, The Village Green Preservation Society
which, although none of them didn’t do well commercially, are a huge anthology of creative musical arrangements, wonderful melodies and riffs.
During the 70s and 80s, however, the American sounds returned; first in form of ragtime, jazz rock and country rock on Muswell Hillbillies
and Everybody’s in Showbiz
, and then by the late 70s onwards The Kinks left all kinds of artistic pretension and focused on make plain, fun hard rock, embracing arena rock, punk, disco and the musical trends of the moment (a similar direction to the one The Rolling Stones were following in those years as well). If you think about it for a minute, Ray’s interest with America is a little of an irony considering that The Kinks were banned from touring in the US during their prime and that they were a big influence for the 90s Britpop wave. Quintessential tea and crumpets rock.
Last year, there was a brief reunion with Davies brothers, which only gave some respectable live performances but nothing else, as neither Ray nor Dave had any plans to make a band’s studio reunion and instead planned to release their solo albums in 2017. Dave Davies teamed up with his son Russ to make Open Road
, while Ray pulled out Americana
on April 21. Needless to say, this album is a musical complement for his 2013 auto-biography of the same name, and the most American-sounding record Ray has ever composed, even more than Muswell Hillbillies
Mr. Davies describes the important role America has played in his life since he was young, as well as both his positive and negative experiences during his stay in the big country. Lyrically it’s such a relief that Davies makes emphasis on the pros and cons of the US while avoiding the recent singer-songwriter cliché of taking on politics or recent events on this album; instead, he continues focusing on his clever and endearing ability to sing about nostalgia and the ''simple'' things of life. During ''The Invaders'', Ray nostalgically recalls Kinks’ temporary ban from the US with lines as 'We just came to see the world/And entertain America/We just came to get a break/Not to turn into enemies of the state'
and 'They called us the Invaders/like barbarians full of hate/Said that we were dangerous/Like warriors sent to pillage and rape'.
On ''Poetry'' Davies criticizes the consumerism and materialism that surrounds the world nowadays while politely asking 'Where is the poetry"', and the bluesy ''Mystery Room'', with its sinister-sounding rhythm and an atypical, dark vibe provided by the wind instruments during its chorus, partially portrays Ray’s thoughts that went through his mind during an accident he had in 2004, where he got shot in the leg while chasing a thief in New Orleans.
Fortunately, Mr. Davies hasn’t lost his characteristic charisma and sense of humor over the years, so even the cons and darkness that sometimes surround traveling all across America, instead of sucking all the fun and optimism of the album, have Ray pouring out his charm and happiness through warm, brilliant melodies and lyrics. The negative experiences he has passed throughout his life are incredibly well contrasted with songs like ''I’ve Heard That Beat Before'', which has the British singer-songwriter cleverly comparing a fighting couple with the repetitiveness of music, delivering funny phrases like 'Another day, another hour/Another brawl, another fight/Can’t stand what I’m hearing/I’ve heard it all before'
, while ''The Great Highway'' and the country-ish title track simply summarize the main idea of the record with Ray cheerfully singing 'I’m ridin’ on The Great Highway/All across America/From New York to LA'
and 'I wanna make my home where the buffalo roam'
respectively. This shouldn’t be interpreted as Ray trying to get rid of his British roots and past, as on the brief acoustic interlude ''The Man Upstairs'' he even takes the time to make a nice nod to 60s classic ''All Day and All of the Night'' on its intro.
Naturally, Ray’s pop-rock compositions here are strongly influenced on American folk, late 60s roots rock and even some purely country and bluegrass moments thrown occasionally. Country-rock act The Jayhawks contribute much of the instrumentation of this album, and with so many delightful and entertaining arrangements the band complements the nostalgic, retro vibe Ray was aiming for with this type of music. A rural, rootsy vibe can be breathed during its 58 minutes, and it’s a joy to hear Davies’ vocals have aged gracefully, as shown on the gentle and humble ''The Deal'' (dealing with fame in the streets of LA while being backed-up with a warm and adorable melody… just like the good old times, welcome home again Ray!), the amusing, pub-rocker ''Change for Change'' or the folk ballad ''Rock ‘n’ Roll Cowboys'', with Ray at his most Bob Dylan mode, featuring tasteful piano and electric guitar arrangements while he compares the life of the rockers with that of the old-west men. 'Your time’s passed, now everyone asks for your version of history/Do you live in a dream, or do you live in reality"'
, he sings with confidence during the chorus.
Most prominent Jayhawks’ contribution is undoubtedly the song duo ''Message From the Road/A Place in Your Heart''. The former, is a heartfelt, touching acoustic ballad about the feeling of missing someone during a long road trip. The latter, is the swampiest, most country-sounding track of the album; a sad love song accompanied of an upbeat, happy melody, fiddles, endearing harmonies and a memorable hook in the backing vocals (’West to East, under the stars
). Both tunes even feature keyboardist Karen Grotberg doing lovely duets with Mr. Davies and her voice really suits to the songs’ messages. Overall the retro vibes are really consistent, and the anthemic, truck-commercial-sounding song ''The Great Highway'' as well as the pop-rock closing ''Wings of Fantasy'' really prove it. Musically and lyrically Americana
, together with some of 60s Kinks’ classics, is less of an album for the young and rebellious people rock music is supposed to be targeting, and more of a record that would specially appeal to those who getting old isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Somebody who considers themselves a big fan of folk rock/Americana can buy this with a total security too.
Once in 1971 Sir Raymond Douglas Davies excellently manifested his feeling and idea about how much he would have been perfectly happy living 100 years earlier through Kinks’ classic tune ''20th Century Man'', with such great lines as 'This is the age of machinery/A mechanical nightmare'
and 'You keep all your smart modern writers/Give me William Shakespeare'
. 46 years later, now we have him on Americana
expressing in an utterly endearing way how much impact the US has caused in his life and artistic career. Undoubtedly Americana
has to count as one of the most unexpected surprises that it has given us this year, and an album that proves that Mr. Davies, at his 73 years old, still has some interesting things to say and many attractive melodies to give to the listener.