As far as my absolute musical heroes are concerned there really only are three – the sadly departed Steve Marriott and Jim Morrison and the very much alive Ray Davies. Sure there are any more that shaped my musical tastes but at the end of the day those are the big three creative forces.
Ray Davies first new album in over nine years – ‘Americana’ therefore is a bit of a big deal. Essentially it’s a 15-track collection of originals that serves as an accompaniment and extension of Davies’ 2013 memoir of the same name, “using the book as both source material and creative catalyst”. Add to that The Jayhawks as backing band, and you have the real possibility of something rather special.
‘Americana’ lyrically of course for those who didn’t read the book draws on Davies long relationship with America – from his early muse through more troubling times and to the present day. The title track has a country glow and hopeful outlook almost like the ‘show reel’ for the whole work, you can imagine everyone in costume and on point and its a nice gentle easy listen.
‘The Deal’ is a wonderful lyrical take on the American Dream from the point of view of an Englishmen, it’s witty and wide-eyed at first, articulate, insightful and as usual with Ray, it’s ‘bang on’ as is the search for ‘Poetry’ in the middle of the overwhelming capitalist delights America offers. Both songs offer a gentle pop take on Americana that sounds like a ‘Blue Highway’ take on the later 70’s Kinks. Both musically and lyrically it’s wonderful.
‘Good Time Gals’ a duet with The Jayhawks Karen Grotberg (at least it’s called that on my copy though titled ‘Message From the Road’ elsewhere) acts as a dreamy interlude before the shuffle and amped-up old time Country Vaudeville of ‘A Place in Your Heart’. The slick rock of ‘Mystery Room’ sounds remarkably contemporary before the fist spoken word interlude ‘Silent Movie’ adds a snippet from the book which leads nicely into ‘Rock and Roll Cowboys’ an atmospheric slice of a dream.
The songs on ‘Americana’ all have a story to tell and sweep from languid ‘old time’ jazzy lilt of ‘Heard that Beat Before’ to the rocking road song ‘The Great Highway’; whilst retelling deeply personal experiences or casual yet incisive observations of the great Western land. You’ll love ‘Change for Change’ which cuts deep lyrically and stomps its observation home, and the musings of ‘Long Drive Home to Tarzana’.
Not being chronological the album ends with a tale from the 60’s: the cutting and bitter ‘The Invaders’ recalls the hostility the band faced in the mid-60’s – being banned for 4 years by the American Federation of Musicians. Closing track ‘Wings of Fantasy’ is light breezy in tone if rather yearning lyrically, one things for sure it rounds out a rather fine album.
If you loved Ray’s book, this is a great accompaniment if you haven’t read it then no matter lyrically this is an album about life and even though through Ray’s own eyes and experiences it does ponder some rather large and open questions. Love it.
‘Americana’ tracklisting: 1. Americana 2. The Deal 3. Poetry 4. Message From The Road 5. A Place In Your Heart 6. The Mystery Room 7. Silent Movie 8. Rock ‘N’ Roll Cowboys 9. Change For Change 10. The Man Upstairs 11. I’ve Heard That Beat Before 12. A Long Drive Home To Tarzana 13. The Great Highway 14. The Invaders 15. Wings Of Fantasy