vrijdag 28 april 2017

Americana. Ray Davies

It's quite some years ago that over a dinner with colleagues I promoted starting a Ray Davies Appreciation Society when discussing the then still rather new WoNo Magazine that had been started within our erstwhile employer called OPTA. Some years before Davies released his two albums in the 00s, which of course got their rightful attention. Except for the choir record, deep silence since 2007 from the Ray Davies front.

Now I am for years of mind that the work of The Kinks is highly unappreciated. Their work in the 60s is of the highest quality and musically is only outshone by The Beatles. The Stones can't even stand in the shadow of several of The Kinks' singles musically. The impact is another matter. In the 70s and the 80s the band had several highlights, for me 'Schoolboys In Disgrace' remains one of the finest albums made in that era. The Kinks' twist on U.S. arena rock also had its moments with 'Low Budget' and 'Give The People What They Want'. After 'State of Confusion', that fine hybrid of an album, things slowly slid towards mediocrity, seemingly uninspired. Like most 60s heroes sounded in the 80s. With 'To The Bone' The Kinks went out in a grand fashion in 1996.

'Other People's Lives' and 'Workingman's Cafe' were two fine albums in which Ray Davies showed the world that he hadn't lost his touch nor his keen, observing pen and came up with some fine tunes. And then silence. Until this April in 2017. Here's Americana, which, with a word that is carefully avoided these days, can rightly be called a rockopera. Davies presents us with a full story like he did on several albums from 1968 onwards, starting with 'The Village Green Appreciation Society'.

With Americana Ray Davies seems to have taken a step backwards. Gone is the forced way he seemed to wanted to convince the world how good he is. A sort of resignation seems to be in place, making him sound so much more relaxed and strong. The music on Americana is totally familiar in sound, in its warmth. The U.S. influence is abundant. He brought The Jayhawks to the Konk Studios in London, for most of the album his backing band. Whether that is the single cause of the consistent style and sound of Americana is unprovable, fact is that the album is.

Where Americana totally succeeds, is the way Davies' U.K. background blends with the music of his American Dream. His typical The Kinks songs, the softer ballad ones that is, mix with country and blues elements to a solid pop mix. (Reminding me how well Ron Sexsmith emulated this sound on his previous album 'Caroussel One'.) The pop element in several songs reaches such a high level, that it is possible to overlook how good the songs are. Take 'Poetry'. The song has a mid-60s Dylan flavour to it, but is free-flowing in a way it could never be a Dylan song. Nothing here is just a rehearsal recorded. All is totally mapped out, under full control before being recorded. Ray Davies' voice may sound older, he is approaching his mid-70s, it still fits his music like a glove. The song is a mild rocker, the lyrics a long story on 21st century life, reflecting on his song of that title, but asking where has the poetry gone? His observational skills as apt as on 'Dead End Street' or 'Art Lover'.

I understand that a book called 'Americana' is at the basis of the album. Stories about his fascination for America. Having read 'Return To Waterloo', makes me sorry to have missed it. Ray Davies is a fine author as well. Something on my list to read. The stories were translated into songs. We hear how he "and his kid brother", who turned 70 this year, went to the States for the first time and certainly hear how the music influenced him through the years. E.g. in the song sung by Karen Grotberg, 'A Place In Your Heart, with one city after the other mentioned along the long roads of the U.S. (a theme returning in the rocker 'The Great Highway'). A song that turns out to be a duet. Again musically so strong that tingles go down my spine.

The quality of Americana really became clear to me when I was alone with the album for the first time. On my headphone not only the quality showed more in all the details that truly presented themselves. It was the nuances of the album that shone so hard and the depth of the details laid into the songs. I realised how much more dynamics the album held than I thought from just listening. The way 'The Mystery Room' rocks became so much more apparent. The contrast with the acoustic guitar and the spoken word about his conversation with Alex Chilton came through to me so much more. As did the fine pop of 'Rock 'n' Roll Cowboys'. Just listen how the piano comes in. I simply melted.

'You Really Got Me', that proto punk and hardrock first hit of The Kinks returns as an acoustic riff introducing another story, turned song. A country song to that. Ray Davies surprised the whole of the time. By then I knew that what I'd read so far on the album was true. This is Ray Davies' best and best-balanced solo album to date. I'd go a little further. Americana is one of his best works overall. The compassion, the warmth and understanding coming from this album presents the listeners with a man not only resigned to his age but in total comfort with who he is and has been in the past. A man able to write his best work without having to be in competition with his past self, which certainly live he seemed to be in the 00s. Forced and to obviously longing for recognition.

Whatever others may think of this album, my recognition is presented here. Total and in full. The Ray Davies Appreciation Society is up and running, full-strength.


You can listen to 'Poetry' here:


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