Ray Davies | Working Man's Café (New West)

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cd_ray-davies.jpgDavies ratchets up the creepy factor for a tune so thick in atmosphere that you can smell the leaves, hear the wind howl, and feel the humidity form sweat beads on your neck.







I'm not given to hyperbole, but let me state this for the record: Ray Davies is the most underrated songwriting legend of his generation. Of course, when I say his generation, I'm including peers such as John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Pete Townshend, Mick Jagger, and Keith Richards. The Kinks' chief tunesmith, lead singer, and rhythm guitar slinger released his first solo album, Other People's Lives, in 2006. If that album was about stepping outside the heavy shadow of his formidable history, Working Man's Café tackles the subject of living in America in a time of transition and turmoil. Comfortably dancing along the thin line between being preachy and entertaining, his songs have always possessed the dual charm of communicating social commentary while sustaining a clever and succinctly British sense of humor.

Kicking off with "Cowboys in Vietnam," Davies immediately establishes the roots-pop musical tone for the 11 tracks that will follow. Clearly still processing the inspiration from spending time in New Orleans, the track is a swamp-boogie joy ride that takes feisty lyrical left and right hook jabs at globalization and all of its consequences. In "You're Asking Me," he plays the true-life part of the elder statesman, too cranky and jaded to offer advice to the up-and-comers kneeling at the rock altar, seeking his wise counsel. On the title track, he laments the loss of a mom-and-pop diner in the wake of alleged "progress," as a sentimental melody underscoring loss morphs into a triumphant and rocking statement of self-worth.

"Morphine Song" is the album's centerpiece, and its twisting drug-hazed chorus will run laps in your noggin for days. The song is inhabited by such strong characters, rich in detail and subtlety, that the track is easily the most visual on the album. "In a Moment" and "Peace in Our Time" offer mid-tempo musings on time, love, and war, while the rockingly Kinks-ish "No One Listen" explores the bureaucratic fallout of the criminal justice system, no doubt inspired by the bullet he received in his leg in 2004. On the gothic "The Voodoo Walk," Davies ratchets up the creepy factor for a tune so thick in atmosphere that you can smell the leaves, hear the wind howl, and feel the humidity form sweat beads on your neck.

Anchoring the 12 tracks is Ray Davies' voice, an instrument he has received too little praise for in the past. Particularly on this album, his voice offers nuanced color and shading to the stories, illuminating the already well-crafted tunes and giving additional shape to the melodies. As a fellow Ray Davies fan recently told me, "This album's like hearing from an old friend." I couldn't agree more. A | Jim Ousley

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