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Ray Davies - Our Country: Americana Act II (5 Stars)


by Kevin Wierzbicki

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Few would argue that when it comes to writing songs that reflect the lives and concerns of the English middle class and working man that Ray Davies is the quintessential story teller. Having spent most of his career drawing inspiration from what was happening around him in his native country, Kinks front man and solo artist Davies has lately turned his attention to the Colonies and is writing about American life. And while his recent words, on this album and last year's Americana may be in a different vein, Americana sounds are nothing new to Davies; listen for example to the 1971 Kinks album Muswell Hillbillies.

Our Country begins with the title track, a song with a gentle melody and hopeful background vocals that is a testament to how America was built on the shoulders of hard working immigrants. Clearly a commentary on the current immigrant quandary in the US, the song displays Davies' talent for getting a point across without directly making it, and completely without animas; it is simply Davies' tone of voice at song's end that conveys the message that the American dream is dying. The subject is similar on "The Invader," another song about immigration that Davies cleverly ties-in to the story of the Kinks, who first came to America as part of the "British Invasion."

"Back in the Day" is exactly what you'd expect --- a reminiscence of the good times circa the 1950s and '60s, that with its swinging rhythm will have no problems packing dance floors, while "Bringing Up Baby" is a loping, old-style country number that recalls the sound of the aforementioned Muswell Hillbillies (Davies also revisits Hillbillies cut "Oklahoma USA" here.) Steel guitar adds to the country western sound of "The Getaway," a cut that sounds like one of Jerry Jeff Walker's Texas tales and that ends up rocking pretty good at song's end.

"The Take" is a rocker with glam overtones that details, real or imagined, the singer's encounter with a very lusty young lady who is determined to "take an icon tonight." Davies indulges in a call-and-response vocal on the cut, with the groupie being portrayed by the Jayhawk's Karen Grotberg (the Jayhawks are Ray's back-up band throughout.) Grotberg gets the last word in on the song, amusingly chirping "Gotcha!" Much of Our Country is subdued, like the laid back and jazzy "Louisiana Sky," but Davies turns it loose on the sassy New Orleans blues of "March of the Zombies" and "The Big Weird," another New Orleans-informed tune where Davies tinkers with the city's nickname. It's no wonder that Ray renames The Big Easy since he was shot in the leg there about 15 years ago during a random mugging, which he (sort of) references in album closer "Muswell Kills."

At this point Davies may be tired of his work constantly being referred to with words like "genius" but this reflection of how America has inspired him (and sometimes beaten him down) will likely find many searching for superlatives. It's really quite simple though; with Our Country Davies tells stories of America through the baby boomer years, which are now closing out, and with some rock and roll thrown in for good measure.

Get your copy here.

Ray Davies - Our Country: Americana Act II (5 Stars)
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