The Upshot: Though not an Americana album in the truest sense, with the Jayhawks on board to translate The Bard’s rootsy vision, it’s a 5-star album across the board – one of Sir Ray’s finest, period.
BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
It ought to come as no surprise that any new album from the recently-knighted Ray Davies is a special event. After all, as the singer/songwriter/chief architect of the Kinks, one of the most indelible bands not only in British rock history, but in the entire spectrum of rock ‘n’ roll in general, Davies has created one of the most memorable musical canons of all time.
Of course, that’s a lot to live up to, and for some artists, a superb back catalog can become something of an albatross, a set of standards that’s practically impossible to live up to. So while Davies has occasionally floundered, by and large he’s never failed to attain the high bar he set early on.
To some, Americana may seem an unlikely subject for him to tackle, given his inherent Englishness and cheeky sense of humor. However one needs only look back at Muswell Hillbillies to understand that he’s always been fascinated and fixated by the American ethos.
“I had this dream America/Was always a very special place,” he explains in the rousing “The Great Highway.”
Even so, this isn’t an Americana album in the truest sense. Though its inspired by his travels around the U.S., the sound is more akin to that of klassic Kinks, as evidenced by the wistful “The Deal” and “The Invaders,” the astute whimsy of “Americana” and the frolicking and finesse of “A Place in Your Heart,” which, with its down home trappings brings it closest to the genre the album title alludes to. Mainly though it’s as perfect a substitute for an authentic Kinks album as anyone would wish for, filled with the same mirth, cleverness and sweet sentiment that’s always been a trademark of Davies’ discography.
Recruiting the Jayhawks as his backing band, nothing strays off the boards, keeping things concise and accessible in an easily engaging sort of way. A trudging mid-tempo rocker like “The Mystery Room” ruminates on the darker side of things, bringing to mind the headier concerns voiced on the album Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One. Likewise, the pensive ballad “Rock ‘N’ Roll Cowboys” recalls the best of his ballads, sharing a certain similarity to wistful Kinks lament “Celluloid Heroes.” Frankly, comparisons don’t get better than that.
Given these references, Americana is damn near as excellent an album as Davies has delivered since the ‘70s, a set of songs that will someday be seen as among his best. That’s a tall order, but here again, Davies delivers. His first album in a decade, it’s a wonderful way of welcoming Ray back.
DOWNLOAD: “The Deal,” “Americana,” “Rock ‘N’ Roll Cowboys”