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KINKS KONTINUE: Davies brothers impress with new music on separate, solo projects

Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report
Recent solo albums from Kinks founders Ray Davies and Dave Davies (along with his son Russ).
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Little did I know that when I began writing these reviews about albums from both Ray Davies and Dave Davies, brothers and founders of The Kinks, that April 10th was "Siblings Day 2019." How appropriate, eh? One of the best-known sibling rivalries in rock n' roll! Funny how life works out. Those little syncs make the days that much more special, I think. Anyway .. 

RAY DAVIES: OUR COUNTRY: AMERICANA ACT II (Sony Legacy) 2018

Kinks frontman Ray Davies, collaborating with Minnesota-based band, The Jayhawks, as his backing band, recorded a follow-up to 2017’s Americana album – Our Country: Americana Act II.

With a stunning 19 tracks, brother Ray continues his US-centric theme that he began on his 2017 album Americana, and focusing on the information he included on his book Americana: The Kinks, The Riff, The Road: The Story.

And as good as Americana was, the song choices on Our Country resonated, especially when he re-records old Kinks classics like “Oklahoma U.S.A.” which appeared on 1971’s Muswell Hillbillies.

The title track has a decidedly folk anthem quality, full of big-hearted love of the land. This was followed by "The Invaders," Davies' spoken word number talking about (with help from narrator John Dagleish and a martial snare drum and folk instrumentation) growing up in post-war England and starting The Kinks, coming to America in the wake of UFO sightings and sci-fi films, but a certain sense of "security," that was palpable to a British "invader" like Davies. Sure, The Kinks were banned for a bit, but they kept at it, maintaining popularity long after "British Invasion" became an entry in the history books.

And this laid-back, pastoral style - a style Ray Davies began exploring with albums like The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society (1968). Davies has always been a master storyteller and his years living and touring America provided this native Londoner with plenty of material to work with, like the Minnesota "nice" of "The Take" while his aforementioned "Muswell Hillbillies" title track from 47 years earlier becomes a steady rocker, "Muswell Kills," reminding any n'er-do-wells not to mess with him.

Again, having an ace alt-country/jangle-pop band backing him up makes sense in capturing the wide-open-space sounds that Davies would be looking for on a recording such as this.

Davies' time in New Orleans, Louisiana comes through on "Louisiana Sky," "March of the Zombies" and "The Big Weird," while "Epilogue" has Davies doing spoken about his getting shot in The Big Easy - and surviving, with a limp.

In fact, the New Orleans experiences seem to dominate on that latter part of the album, as he had lived there and gained some "weird" experiences, material that would provide fodder for these Our Country songs.

While Ray Davies has slowed down some now that he's in his seventies, his passion for the life of a rambling troubadour of some notoriety is clearly evident in this collection of songs. Now, I am particularly looking forward to him reuniting with brother Dave Davies for a proper Kinks reunion. Fingers crossed!

DAVE DAVIES & RUSS DAVIES: OPEN ROAD (Green Amp Records) 2017

The first album, 2017’s Open Road, featuring Dave “The Rave” Davies collaborating with his electronic-musician son Russ Davies, is a real gem of a recording. And while Ray's album focused on slices of his past, Davies is dwelling more on the now and thinking of the future.

And the best example of this, for me, is the final song on Open Road: "Chemtrails."

Singing about how the trails left behind by aircraft - vapor trails or "chemtrails" - seem to crisscross the skies far more than they did in the halcyon days of youth, Dave Davies is rightfully concerned about what humanity's poisonous impact on earth and sky will be going forward, as these "chemtrails" cannot be a healthy message for future generations: 

Days of innocence are over 
Yet I still retain my optimism 
And hope for us all 
I believe we have solutions in our hearts and minds 

Here we stand, looking to the future 
There must be a better path 
Oh we must save our Earth 
And together build a future, braver world.

Having recently read and reviewed Dave's autobiography, Kink, originally published in 1996, I came away with a far better understanding and appreciation of this musically-gifted man who also sees through the "veil of illusion" that envelopes much of humanity, embracing a much more "cosmic" perspective. I, for one, find it refreshing, and distinguishes Dave from brother Ray. Just listen to the trippy psychedelia of "King of Diamonds," which is an outstanding track on Open Road. I wish more singers and rock guitarists these days were following Davies' trailblazing lead. Perhaps they are, in our atomized culture where things are so individualized, we don't feel connected as we once did.

Melodic ballads like "Forgiveness" show real depth with Davies, while the ax-master includes a nice solo on "Sleep On It." 

Yes, Dave, being a guitarist, still knows how to rock out, as he does on the title track, that seems to take a lead from son Russ, as it has a more "modern" feel about it. But that shows you how Dave Davies always tries to keep things fresh while pushing the boundaries of music when appropriate.

But with a track like "Don't Wanna Grow Up," where Dave sings about his "old school friends" and reminscing, while make sure not to dwell too much on the past while enjoying the "sunrise," in the now. On the other side of the coin, the spare "Love Has Rules Of Its Own" has 

Where father and son really shine is on "Slow Down" which features both taking turns on the vocals, set against a smooth, steady beat and strummy guitar, along with atmospheric keyboards that give it the added boost it needs. Indeed, Dave and Russ - who have recorded albums together before - are a terrific musical team. 

Listening to Dave Davies' 1980's albums like Glamour (1981) and Chosen People (1983), or more recent fare like I Will Be Me (2013), Dave remains as real and down-to-earth as ever. Approachable, compassionate and curious. Throughout his long career (check out the recent lost-70's-material retrospective Decade, for more evidence of this in his music) he has kept at his instrument like an extra appendage. He is a master from nearly 60 years at it, now. And his songs and ideas remain compelling. For those solo tracks like "Energy Fields," "Lincoln County,"  "Telepathy" and "Fire Burning," there's equally good, if not better material on Open Road, and all the while he has his supertalented son Russ at his side.

So, now we wait. Wait for the news of a Kinks reunion. And even if it never happens (fingers crossed that it does), we know that Ray and Dave - brothers to the core - will be bringing the masses some fantastic and inspiring music. To quote Star Wars actor Mark Hamill, (from a recent Twitter post) "#KinksRule." 

OUR COUNTRY - B+ / OPEN ROAD - A-

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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