Ray Davies — Americana (April 21, 2017)★”“★ The newly knighted leader of The Kinks wanders anonymously into a bistro in north London on a grey afternoon and takes a seat by the window.
★”“★ At 72, Sir Ray Davies doesn’t look much like anyone’s idea of a rock legend. He is slightly tatty in a tweed jacket (“I got it second hand,” he notes, proudly) with the thinning, flyaway hair of an absent~minded professor.
★”“★ “It was nice going to the Palace,” he says, with an insouciant shrug. “I’ve been there before. It’s all part of the pageant and theatre of life. What I found moving was being with other recipients, people being honoured for doing a job, seemingly unnoticed. It made me feel part of society. I don’t often feel like that.”
Location: Muswell Hill, London, England
Album release: April 21, 2017
Record Label: Sony Legacy
01 Americana 4:03
02 The Deal 5:04
03 Poetry 5:06
04 Message from the Road 2:57
05 A Place in Your Heart 5:04
06 The Mystery Room 3:51
07 Silent Movie 1:12
08 Rock ’N’ Roll Cowboys 4:21
09 Change for Change 3:23
10 The Man Upstairs 1:37
11 I’ve Heard That Beat Before 4:04
12 A Long Drive Home to Tarzana 5:00
13 The Great Highway 4:43
14 The Invaders 3:48
15 Wings of Fantasy 4:19
♣ The inspiration for Americana grew out of Davies’ autobiography of the same name, but it didn’t come easy. He first mentioned this project more than three years ago. Along the way, Davies told Mojo that it became “the biggest record project I’ve ever attempted. … It’s a real challenge. You adapt books into films and stage plays, but it’s very unusual to adapt a book into a record.”
♣ In an inventive twist, new songs are interspersed on Americana with a series of spoken~word passages from the memoir. “My catchphrase right now is ‘feel free to fail,’” Davies told Billboard. “Because you gotta try, even if you don’t succeed. At least you tried. That was my approach with the Kinks, and it paid off for the most part.”
♣ The Kinks frontman has been celebrated as rock and roll royalty for years, but Queen Elisabeth made it official when she knighted him in December. It’s an honor Davies unarguably deserves. For more than 50 years, he’s been England’s great social satirist and commentator. If The Kinks are pop music’s quintessential British band, then Davies is by extension its quintessential British songwriter.
By Barry Walters, APRIL 18 2017 / Score: 7.3
♣ The Kinks legend uses Americana to blaze a path through both America’s rock’n’roll history and his own. Its back~to~basics energy and prosaic storytelling make it his best solo album in years.
♣ Ass suggested by the title Americana, the former Kinks frontman is a cultural and musical paradox. The most emphatically English of all the British Invasion bandleaders, Britpop’s beloved father argues throughout his new album (and 2013 autobiography by the same name) that he spent much of his band’s 32~year career chasing the American Dream.
♣ Even so, many of the Kinks’ most enduring hits — from 1965’s “A Well Respected Man” to 1977’s “Father Christmas” — drew explicitly from England’s class system, customs, and culture. While nearly every major UK act downplayed their Englishness once psychedelic pop morphed into acid rock, the Kinks defiantly celebrated it with Anglo~specific artistic peaks so out of step with the times they doubled as commercial failures, like ’68’s The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society.
♣ But back in 1964, when Sir Ray and baby brother Dave practically invented heavy metal with “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night,” the Kinks were imitating black American bluesmen. Then, when they partnered with master mogul Clive Davis and toured America almost nonstop through the late ’70s and early ’80s, much of their output so aped U.S. arena rock that nearly all of it bombed back home. Principally played by Ray Davies and the Jayhawks, the rowdiest chunks of Americana echo the wild riffs that animated those fist~pumping anthems.
♣ Quoted at length in Americana the book, “The Great Highway” and “Wings of Fantasy” both lyrically and musically recall those road~hog years when Davies aimed to reclaim the mass audience (and dollars) the U.S. establishment denied him during the British Invasion’s reign. Flaunting soupy arrangements of straightforward power chords, these cuts aren’t Americana as the rootsy genre is now defined, but they sure sound American~nearly a Coors ‘n’ tailgate reference away from bro~country.
♣ Yet most of Americana avoids the hammy growling that marred earlier Davies solo records like 2006’s Other People’s Lives and 2007’s Working Man's Café, even though, as the book reveals, some of its songs predate those albums. On the opening title track, Davies so abandons his usual music hall delivery and near~Cockney accent that he’s barely recognizable. Having finally achieved West End success with 2014’s still~running jukebox musical Sunny Afternoon, Davies redirects his theatricality into Americana’s narrative. Like the book, it forgoes chronology as it zigzags from childhood dreams of Wild West buckaroos to delusional Hollywood aspirations; back to the Kinks’ maiden voyage to America, when their long hair and pervy moniker initially marked them more threatening than the Stones; and forward to being shot in 2004 by a mugger nearby his adopted New Orleans home.
♣ No matter where he dwells, Davies remains an outsider, and that alienation unites Americana’s jumble of eras and places. On “Poetry,” he kneels in gratitude at the local KFC for the abundance that corporations bestow upon us. This is Davies in Dylan mode, hyperbolic but as dazzling with prosaic details as his student Jarvis Cocker. And unlike his previous post~Kinks cohorts, the Jayhawks steer clear of Nashville gloss while conjuring the appropriate C&W~tinged folk~rock fare. Keyboardist Karen Grotberg even duets with Davies on “Message from the Road,” evoking the tumbleweed kitsch of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood while still pulling heartstrings.
♣ Preceded by a quote from the book about his New Orleans neighbor, the late Alex Chilton, “Rock ‘N’ Roll Cowboys” provides the other poignant highlight. It’s a eulogy for rock’s rebels as well the music itself that’s delivered as a bittersweet bluegrass waltz, and it extends a metaphor of the formerly outlaw genre as a vanquished frontier. “Your time’s passed, now everyone asks for your version of history,” he mournfully croons. “Do you live in a dream, or do you live in reality?” He poses the question without answering it himself; there’s no need. ♣ http://pitchfork.com/
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine; Score: ****½
♣ Ray Davies published a memoir chronicling his life~long affair with America in 2013. Naturally, it was called Americana, and that’s also the title of this 2017 musical adaptation of the book. Davies plays a little fast and loose with his facts, which is perhaps a detriment in an autobiography but suits the condensed nature of songwriting. He doesn’t tell a story with Americana — it’s not a song cycle along the lines of Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) — but rather offers a series of vignettes, some torn from the pages of his book, others expanding upon its themes. Images of highways, cowboys, and movies dance through the songs, as do sly allusions to the Kinks. It’s not just that there’s an echo of “All Day and All of the Night” on “The Man Upstairs,” either: “Poetry” recalls the pastoral jangle of Village Green Preservation Society and “The Great Highway” stomps like a Low Budget outtake. This is the key to understanding Americana. While there are a few nods to classic American music — “A Place in Your Heart” rambles like an old country & western tune — Americana is Davies examining how America has changed him, so it fits that his own work is threaded into the album. Backed by the Jayhawks — an Americana band raised on the British Invasion — Davies manages to skillfully pull off such subtle shifts in tone. Collaborating with a working band enlivens him — there’s snap and muscle here that were missing on the otherwise fine Working Man’s Café — and for as good as the songs are, what’s initially so absorbing about Americana is this limber musicality. What makes it last are the songs, which are wry, moving, and truthful, which wasn’t always the case in his book.