Artist of the Month – Ray Davies
May 1, 2017
At first glance, it may seem a little odd – bizarre, even – that Ray Davies should be releasing an album called ‘Americana’. This, after all, is one of the finest songwriters to ever emerge from Britain, and one whose frequently wry and observational eye is rooted in a very deep sense of Englishness.
Yet to view the newly knighted Davies’ first solo album in almost 10 years as something out of character is to miss out on the influence the Land Of The Free and The Home Of The Brave had on Ray and the rest of his generation.
America held post-war British kids in thrall thanks to a combination of cultural factors; Cowboys and Indians, TV, comic books and, of course, rock’n’roll. This perfect storm hit a generation that had just missed out on National Service, and the response from these shores was to refine those influences and send them reverberating back home where they came from.
And they’ve always been there, for anyone who cares to listen, in Davies’ music. Be it the fingerprints of Bob Dylan on ‘Where Have All The Good Times Gone?’ or the dusting for them on 1971’s ‘Muswell Hillbillies’ album. But what Ray Davies has always done so well is to take those influences and hold a mirror up to them, becoming an influence himself.
Crucially, ‘Americana’ – the first part of two musical companions to his 2013 book of the same name – finds Ray Davies doing what he always does best. He observes, he notes and he reports back on a world that’s instantly recognisable to anyone who’s stepped out of their front door, wherever it may be. What’s also in evidence is a lack of nostalgia, no listening through rose-tinted headphones.
Indeed, to listen to a song like ‘Poetry’ is to realise that Ray Davies is as much a product of the present as you or I. This isn’t the lamentation of somebody yearning for a youth that headed west a long time ago but a shrewd and insightful reflection of where we’re all at. And so by staying rooted in the present, we find ourselves, somewhat ironically, with vintage Ray Davies.
There’s a canny blending of cultures at play here, too. Recorded at his own Konk Studios with Minnesota’s The Jayhawk’s providing the backing, Ray Davies mixes potent ingredients with all the skill and knowledge of a master chef at work.
The result is, unsurprisingly, a heady brew and one that satisfies on many different levels – the authenticity of the music, the sincerity of the lyrics, the joyous mixture of them all.
‘Americana’ is the sound of a master songwriter and craftsman doing what he does best. The franes of reference may come from where you least expect it but the honesty and universal truths that have always beat at the heart of Ray Davies’ songs are all present and correct.
This is the same Ray Davies that you’ve come to know and love over the years only more so. That second part can’t come round soon enough.
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