CD: Ray Davies - Our Country: Americana Act II Ex-Kink takes us on another rip-roaring journey aroun

From The Arts Desk

When Ray Davies released his Americana LP last year, much was made of how the the ex-Kink's lyrical focus had shifted from English villages to the mid-western plains of the big old USA. Really, though, Davies was just looking back over his life. America had always loomed large in Kinks' songs - if only in the imagination of the English characters - and after their infamous touring ban, they played there relentlessly. Our Country - Americana Act II, completes the story.

As before, the album is largely inspired by Davies autobiography, Americana: The Kinks, the Road and the Perfect Riff. This time, though, the inspiration is more direct. Volume 1 took an oblique look at Davies' experiences, Volume 2 sounds more like an attempt to set the book to music.

The process moves the songwriter into new territory. In places, the feel is almost like Randy Newman– full of warmth, wit, spoken word, and musical digressions. We begin with Davies' early experiences as a rock'n'roll-obsessed teenager ("Back in the Day") and soon move to life as a successful rock star with his own fans ("The Take"). But it's not until we arrive in New Orleans, a city Davies called home for a while, that the LP really starts cooking. Davies and his backing band(s) kiss goodbye to rock'n'roll and Americana and get stuck into the blues. The musical styles move briskly from acoustic guitars ("Street Called Hope"), through laid-back reflections ("Louisiana Sky") and on to a full-on New Orleans' funeral march ("March of the Zombies").

Maybe, though, the best thing about Our Country isn't the music at all. It's Davies' wonderful-and-wise spoken word sections. For instance, on "The Big Guy" where Davies delivers a warm ode to the old security guards who protected him. He says he wouldn't have got shot in a New Orleans mugging if they'd been around.The song then morphs into one of the most beautiful melodies Davies has ever penned. On the last track, "Muswell Hillbillies", the American experience is over and Davies is back in North London. Davies' second musical journey around America may be substantially different from the first, but it's every bit as fun.

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