Our Country: Americana Act II By Ray Davies

October 16, 2019

If Ray Davies had only written one song, he would still have made a mark on the history of rock music. His 1964 classic, “You Really Got Me,” with his band The Kinks and the opening chords played by his brother Dave, helped establish the foundations of hard rock. The Kinks remained active until 1996 and were inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1990.

He began his solo career in 1985 and his newest release is his sixth studio album. Our Country: Americana Act II is the follow-up to his 2017 release. It continues his reflections about his American experiences.

Our Country: Americana Act II is a concept album similar to his early 1970 releases. The album contains narration, which can be both positive and negative. They are interesting the first couple of listens but become repetitive with additional exposure.

The music has a flow and when taken together is better than the individual parts. The songs are not the gritty rock of the early Kinks but has a laid back style to it. It is Ray Davies the story teller rather than Ray Davies the rock musician.

He has had a long and sometimes tempestuous relationship with America but ultimately the country formed a part of who he is as a person and musician. That songs such as “Back In The Day,” “The Take,” “Louisiana Sky,” “The Big Weird,” and “Tony and Bob” are able to chronicle his journey musically is extraordinary.

Ray Davies is now one of the grand old men of sixties rock and roll. Old Country: Americana Act II is a reflective album of a person looking back. It is ultimately an album of soothing and reflective music.

Rippin’ Up New York City Live: Live At The Winery NYC By Dave Davies

November 5, 2016


Dave Davies is one of those rock and roll survivors. He spent nearly three tumultuous decades as the lead guitarist for The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Kinks. In 1964 he created one of the most famous guitar riffs in rock and roll history with his opening chords to “”you Really Got Me.” He is now fully recovered from a major stroke that left him unable to play the guitar and sing for a while. Proof of his survival is his new live album, Rippin’ Up New York City.

He and his backing band of guitarist Jonathan Lea, drummer Dennis Diken, bassist/keyboardist Tom Currier, and backing vocalist Rebecca Wilson played two shows at the New York City Winery, November 24 and 25, 2014, and the tape was running.

The 15 tracks are both powerful and intimate as he moves back and forth from electric rockers to sensitive acoustic pieces.

The concert, and the CD, was constructed well as they build toward a trio of Kinks songs finale. “Where Have All The Good Times Gone,” “All Day And All Of The Night,” and “You Really Got Me” are explosive and quickly show why Davies has influenced two generations of guitarists.

He reaches back to the beginning of his solo career for a smooth rendition of 1967’s “Death Of A Clown.” While his solo output may be more reserved than much of the music of the Kinks; songs such as “Creepin’ Jean,”  “Suzannahs Still Alive,” “Flowers In The Rain,” “Livin’ On A Thin Line,” and “Rippin’ Up Time” have some bite beneath the textures

Davies has completely recovered since his medical issues as his technical ability on the guitar remain excellent. The sound is clean with a good mix between the band and audience.

It’s good to have Dave Davies back in circulation. He will be touring on the east coast of the United States during October. If Rippin’ It Up In New York City is any indication, it may be a good time to catch a true legend in action.

UK Jive by The Kinks

August 11, 2012

The 1980s were winding down and so was the career of the Kinks. The Kinks were about to be inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and they preceded that event with the release of one of the weaker albums of their career.

I don’t think any Kinks album was really terrible, as every release had at least a few good tunes to recommend it and a rabid fan base to praise it. Having said that, UK Jive struggled mightily to be average.

The album was not musically cohesive. Ray Davies had covered just about every topic and musical style his fertile mind could invent. A number of the tracks found him repeating himself, and sometimes brilliantly so, but the element of surprise was missing, which may be the most telling criticism of the release.

All was not lost, however. The title track was an amalgamation of styles, such as doo-wop and power rock, that fit together nicely. The song was eight years in the making as it had been left off two previous releases. The title may have been out of date at the time but the music has held up well.

“Entertainment” was the kind of Ray Davies composition that gets inside your head by its inventiveness and unpredictability. Entertainment for Ray Davies was rape, murder, and other sundry thoughts from the dark side of existence, which he wraps up into an excellent rocker.

Later CD issues are superior to the original release as they contain two Dave Davies-written bonus tracks which, when combined with his last track on the original release, make for three fairly good songs in a row. The poignant “Dear Margaret,” the hard-rocking “Bright Lights,” and the six minute “Perfect Strangers,” which explores one night stands, combine for about 12 minutes of solid music.

On the other hand, “Aggravation” is a six minute diatribe against modern society, an area Ray Davies had explored better in the late ’60s, ’70s, and early ’80s. “How Do I Get Close” was a weak attempt at fitting in with the music of the time period. “Now and Then” was Ray yearning for a better world, another topic he had explored better in the past. “Down All the Days (Till 1992),” “Looney Balloon,” “War Is Over,” and “What Are We Doing” find the band adrift and never quite coming together.

As the ’90s dawned the music world was changing and the Kinks were being left behind. UK Jive was not one of their better efforts. If you want to spend some time enjoying the music of the Kinks, there are a number of better albums to visit.

Article first published as Music Review: The Kinks – UK Jive on Blogcritics.

The Kinks At The BBC by The Kinks

July 26, 2012

The Kinks have opened their vaults and those of the BBC (British Broadcasting Company) with the upcoming August 13 release of a massive five CD plus one DVD box set. The Kinks at the BBC gathers together all 24 of their performances for the BBC network beginning September 7, 1961, and ending October 8, 1994. The bonus DVD contains performances from Top Of The Pops, The Old Grey Whistle Text, and a number of assorted concert appearances. When all is said and done, it adds up to 190 different tracks.

Just about every major British music artist, and hundreds of minor and obscure ones as well, appeared on the BBC. The Kinks material is a treasure trove of live performances, in-studio session work, unreleased tracks, and interviews, many of which have not seen the light of day since their original broadcast. The sound quality varies depending on the equipment used at the various sessions. Also, the BBC erased a number of their older broadcasts shortly after they were first aired and this set fills in some gaps with material that was recorded by fans at the time. All in all, it is far superior in quality and quantity to the previously released BBC Sessions: 1964-1967, the 35 track compilation which was issued during 2001. Note that this set will also be released as a two-CD set that, while not as extensive, is a lot cheaper.

This is an essential release for any fan of The Kinks as it traces the history of the band from a unique perspective. Their well-known material combines with deep album cuts and obscurities to create an interesting musical timeline.

The oldest tracks are four songs, plus three interviews, from their September, 1964 performance at the Playhouse Theater in London. “Cadillac,” “I’m a Lover Not a Fighter,” “Little Queenie,” and the ever-present ”You Really Got Me” present the band at the beginning of their career. I don’t know if there was any studio wizardry to enhance the sound (this would happen on a consistent basis with the BBC music series) but “You Really Got Me” just may be the best version of the song I have heard. The tempo is a little faster than usual, the bass is more upfront in the mix, and the vocals are extremely clear. In fact, many of their early studio albums suffered from a muddy sound but that is not the case on many of the same songs presented here.

One of the highlights of the set is their 19-song, 1977 Christmas concert from the famous Rainbow Theatre, which appears in both audio and video format. It catches the band during the middle part of their career as songs like “Sleepwalker,” “Death Of A Clown,” “Slum Kids,” “Celluloid Heroes,” and “Alcohol” share space with many of their big hits.

The newest material was from a 1994 session recorded at the Maida Vale Studio. “Phobia,” “Over The Edge,” “Wall Of Fire,” and a revisiting of “Till The End Of The Day” find The Kinks in late-career hard rock mode. “Phobia” is about as hard as The Kinks ever rocked as Dave Davies just takes off with his guitar solos.

The several dozen video tracks create a chronicle of the band as The Kinks and their music mature before your eyes. While many of their well-known hits are presented several times, it is the deeper cuts that really make the disc worthwhile. Songs such as “Virgin Soldiers” (1972), “Muswell Hillbillies” (1971), “Village Green Preservation Society” (1973), and “Scattered” (1993) are examples of the band presenting some of their more sophisticated material live. They even crank up a version of “Good Golly Miss Molly.

The Kinks are sometimes an overlooked band from the British Invasion era, but their catalogue of material is just about the equal of most of their contemporaries. The Kinks at the BBC is an essential release in the band’s long history as it resurrects dozens of long unavailable tracks.

Article first published as Music Review: The Kinks – The Kinks at the BBC [5-CD/1-DVD Box Set] on Blogcritics.

Think Visual by The Kinks

July 24, 2012

Sometimes I’m not sure how much thought and effort The Kinks put into their Think Visual album. They had just signed with the MCA Label and so, for better or worse, had to produce an album. What emerged was an average release, saved somewhat by several good songs.

The Kinks had been cranking out albums with a great deal of regularity for almost a quarter century, and the creative well may have been a little dry at this point in time. They were also trying to update their sound to make their music commercially appealing during the second half of the 1980s and seemed to have gotten a little stuck between eras.

The rock was a little lighter than most of their recent releases. The music did not have a cohesive feel, which was not helped by the varying quality of the material.

The Dave Davies creations traveled in separate directions. “Rock ‘n” Roll Cities” was a personal lyrical journey I did not want to take very often as it just dragged along. On the other hand, I found “Wish You Were A Child” charming and poignant.

The Ray Davies material was a mixed bag. The best of the lot was “Lost And Found,” which was a classic love ballad. It had drama, beauty, and a melodic nature and remains one of those somewhat forgotten but brilliant songs that Ray Davies would issue every now and then.

“Working At The Factory” was the album’s first track and found Davies on familiar ground as he criticized the music industry within a rock setting. “The Video Shop” was Davies looking at the ordinary and making it interesting. Today, given the topic, it is quaint and nostalgic. The title track was another critical look at the industry and, while he had traveled this particular road often, the guitar work by brother Dave made the track palatable.

Think Visual was not a brilliant but a middling effort by The Kinks. No doubt some aficionados of the band will consider it a worthy release, but if you want to explore their music, there are a lot of better and more creative albums that deserve your attention. In the final analysis, despite several good songs, it was a workmanlike album that is only for the hard core fan.

Article first published as Music Review: The Kinks – Think Visual on Blogcritics.

Word Of Mouth by The Kinks

July 12, 2012

The career of The Kinks had reached the three decade mark when they returned with their Word Of Mouth album during November of 1984.

It was a solid, if not spectacular album of rock and roll. It seems as if Ray Davies was trying to create a commercially successful album by conforming to some of the musical trends of the era. He basically assembled an album of potential singles, none of which became hits. Still, a number of the songs were catchy, contained a little wit, and featured some fine guitar play.

It was a rare Kinks album where many of the highlights centered on brother Dave Davies rather than Ray. It seemed as if just about every Kinks album contained a hidden gem. In this case it was Dave’s “Living on a Thin Line,” which was a ballad of rare beauty. Even the lyrics of the poor and middle class being overwhelmed by the rich continues to resonate. His other composition, “Guilty,” contained one of the better lead vocals of his career. When you add in his riffing on the title track and the catchy guitar phrasing of “Do It Again,” you have an album that highlights many of the musical strong points of the often overlooked Davies brother.

The best of the Ray Davies concoctions was “Sold Me Out,” which would have fit in well with the punk movement. It was a song that just blasted out of the speakers. “Do It Again” should have been a hit single, as its catchy musical nature was perfect radio fare at the time and the tune remained in your mind for days. “Good Day” displayed the wit and sardonic nature of Ray, as the song was about anything but a good day. “Going Solo” was his philosophical musing about aging and empty nest syndrome. One could only wish for an update over a quarter of a century later.

On the other hand, “Missing Persons” struggled to be just an average song, and such tracks as “Too Hot,” “Summer’s Gone,” and “Massive Reductions” sort of disappear from memory after a couple of listens.

Word Of Mouth was one of those albums that probably deserved a little more respect than it has received. Given the brilliance of many albums in The Kinks catalog, Word Of Mouth has disappeared into the netherworld of their family of releases. Every once in a while, however, it deserves a listen especially for the Dave Davies contributions.

Article first published as Music Review: The Kinks – Word of Mouth on Blogcritics.

State Of Confusion by The Kinks

July 11, 2012

State Of Confusion was an album that Ray Davies and The Kinks got just about right. It was more diversified lyrically and musically than many of their releases. Davies biting humor and sarcastic wit were out in full force which was always welcome. It was not as bonecrunching as their previous release, Give The People What They Want, but it was still an album of solid rock and roll.

The most popular and memorable track from the album was the hit single “Come Dancing.” This radio friendly tune was perfect listening fare during the early 1980s. It was a rare Kinks song that used Ian Gibbons keyboards rather than Dave Davies guitar as the underlying lead instrument. It may not have had the raw appeal of their 1960s hits, but it was a smooth song. If Ray Davies had planned to record a popular song, then here he succeeded well.

Every Kinks album seems to have included one somewhat forgotten classic. This time it was “Clichés of the World (B Movie)” Ray Davies was examining life as only he could, as he had the unique ability to see the obvious. Here he looked at life within the context of a movie and not a great movie at that.

The title song was written in the middle of life crises for Ray Davies. His marriage had fallen apart and his brother Dave was literally fighting on stage with his friend, longtime Kinks’ drummer Mick Avory. He put all of that angst into this hard rock song.

It was an album of consistently superior music. “Definite May” humorously criticized the ills of society over a simple bass and drum beat. ”Heart Of Gold” was about growing up as Dave Davies guitar moves front and center. “Don’t Forget To Dance” was a ballad with sermonic advice. “Young Conservatives” compared the younger generation of the 1980s to that of the ’60s. It remains an interesting look at the era from 30 years later.

State Of Confusion was a good example of Ray Davies looking at the common things of life and building his songs upon those observations. The album remains an excellent example of the Kinks style and sound.

Article first published as Music Review: The Kinks – State Of Confusion on Blogcritics.

Give The People What They Want by The Kinks

June 28, 2012

I have always been amused by the title of The Kinks album, Give The People What They Want. Ray Davies and The Kinks did just the opposite for close to a decade with a series of concept albums. Even when they returned to a straight rock format and commercial success, Davies still traveled his own musical journey rather than pandering to the whims of music buying public.

Give The People What They Want was released in the U.S. during August of 1981 (January, 1982 in the U.K.). At the time, The Kinks were comprised of guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Ray Davies, lead guitarist Dave Davies, drummer Mick Avory, bassist Jim Rodford, and keyboardist Ian Gibbons.

The album was weaker than most of their recent rock albums. The music was catchy and in places was some of the hardest rock The Kinks would produce. The lyrics were some of the darkest of Ray Davies career. Death, killing, and abuse did not make for a pleasurable listen. Also missing were doses of Ray Davies wit and satire, which had saved similar material in the past. It all added up to a half-good album that ranks somewhere in the middle of their catalogue of music.

The album had a promising beginning. “Around The Dial” contained scathing commentary about how corporations controlled the programming of radio stations.

There were two superior tracks that found the band on solid ground. “Predictable” was about the bliss of monotony. Davies always had the capacity for creating songs about ordinary things. “Better Things” closed the album on a high note and was very different from what had preceded it. It was a catchy and charming ballad and a rare upbeat concoction by Davies.

Songs such as “Destroyer” and “Back To Front” may not have contained memorable lyrics but they found The Kinks exploring the outer edge of hard rock. On the other hand, tracks such as the chilling “Killer’s Eyes,” “A Little Bit Of Abuse,” “Yo-Yo,” and even the title track found the band exploring the dark side of life.

Give The People What They Want presented The Kinks moving into the 1980s with a much harder sound. If you can shut out the lyrics to some of the tracks, the album becomes a lot more palatable but it ultimately remains an album for Kinks fans who want it all.

Article first published as Music Review: The Kinks – Give The People What They Want on Blogcritics.

Low Budget by The Kinks

June 5, 2012

If you read the lyrics to the songs that form The Kinks’ 1979 release, Low Budget, you may think that Ray Davies had some sort of concept album in mind. When the music kicks in, however, you realize that The Kinks were in full rock mode.

Disco and punk rock were in in vogue when The Kinks went into the studio during early 1979. Ray Davies may have been influenced by these two popular music trends but it was on his own terms. His witty sense of humor and ability to see ordinary life from odd angles combined with what best can be described as hard-driving, American-type rock and roll. It all added up to one of their better albums, and their fan base responded by making it one of the best-selling studio album of their long career.

It was always a good sign when the album credits did not have an extended list of musicians and contributors. Low Budget only lists the basic band of guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist Ray Davies, lead guitarist Dave Davies, bassist Jim Rodford, and drummer Mick Avory. The only other addition was saxophone player Nick Newall.

When Dave Davies guitar kicked in on the opening track, “Attitude,” and Ray sings about making fun of a fool, it was quickly apparent that The Kinks were in fine form. “Pressure” and “Misery” continued the all-out rock attack.

The album’s best two tracks occurred back-to-back on the second side of the original release. “A Gallon Of Gas” was a stripped down bluesy piece that told the story of being a star but not being able to find any gas. There was hash but no gas. “A Little Bit of Emotion” was one of the better ballads of Ray Davies’ career.

“National Health” is a song that resonates today as the topic is relevant again. “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman” moved in a disco direction and has a number of clichés, which made it a near-perfect Ray Davies song. The album ended with “Moving Pictures,” which was a message about not taking life too seriously.

Low Budget is an album that has held up well over time. It found The Kinks at the top of their game and helped them end the 1970s in style.

Article first published as Music Review: The Kinks – Low Budget on Blogcritics.

Misfits by The Kinks

May 23, 2012

The Kinks returned during the spring of 1978 with their second album of self-contained rock in a row. While it may not have been as cohesive as its predecessor, Sleepwalker, its individual parts were very good. Misfits contained fine examples of Ray Davies’ English wit, his biting social commentary, his always interesting thoughts about life, and best of all his ability to create energetic rock and roll with incisive lyrics. It all added up to one of the more consistent albums of The Kinks career.

The title song, in addition to setting the rock tempo for the album, was a lament by Ray Davies that The Kinks never really fit in. His series of concept albums had received little to almost no commercial success, resulting in the Kinks being referred to as, “The best band you never heard of.” His return to straight rock and roll rejuvenated the band’s success as it was more mainstream and smooth than much of their music of the past decade. Misfits proved to be a consistent seller in the U.S. and even contained a top 40 single. It seems as if one of rock’s ultimate misfits was finally learning how to fit in.

“A Rock & Roll Fantasy” was the hit single and was dedicated to the fan base that had stood by him through thick and thin. This song about the mirage of popularity would gain him a number of new fans as well.

There were several tracks that presented Ray Davies’ style in microcosm. His “Hay Fever” combined allergies and sex into one witty tale. “Permanent Waves” was a song about the mundane, in this case hairstyles. “Black Messiah” brought his satire front and center for this political tale. “Out Of The Wardrobe” picked up on the sexual themes of “Lola.”

Hidden away in the album was one of Dave Davies’ better creations. “Trust Your Heart” was an emotional song of beauty that featured some of his expert guitar licks.

Misfits may not have been a masterpiece but it was a strong album of rock songs. It continued the band’s resurgence in the U.S. and remains a fine example of their late 1970s and early 1980s career.

Article first published as Music Review: The Kinks – Misfits on Blogcritics.