Needless to say, Ray Davies needs no introduction. As the singer, songwriter, and erstwhile leader of the Kinks, one of the most remarkable bands to ever emerge out of England, he possesses a musical catalog that ranks with any of his contemporaries, the Beatles, The Who and the Stones included.
It’s not that he hasn’t floundered on occasion (Preservation anyone?), and in fact, Americana may seem an unlikely subject for one who’s inherent Englishness and cheeky sense of humor is so essential to his style. There is precedent, however; one needs only look back at the Kinks’ Muswell Hillbillies to see that he’s always been fascinated by the American ethos. As he states in the rousing “The Great Highway,” “I had this dream America/Was always a very special place,” and clearly those sentiments create a thread that runs through every song in the set. Enlisting The Jayhawks as his backing band adds authenticity, while also ensuring that he has a sympathetic ensemble in tow.
While the concept was inspired by his travels around the U.S., the sound of many of these songs is, in fact, akin to that of classic Kinks, as evidenced by such offerings as “The Deal,” “The Invaders,” “Americana,” and “A Place in Your Heart,” songs that place their emphasis on wit and whimsy. And while Davies’ personal perspective distinguishes it as a solo record rather than a Kinks collection, it’s a fine substitute regardless, one filled with the same sweet sentiment that’s always been a trademark of Davies’ discography. A trudging mid-tempo rocker like “The Mystery Room” ruminates on the darker side of things, bringing to mind the headier concerns that dominated the album Lola Versus Powerman and theMoneygoround, Part One, just as the pensive “Rock ‘N’ Roll Cowboys” recalls the best of his ballads, sharing a certain similarity to another Kinks classic, “Celluloid Heroes.”
Ultimately, Americana makes its mark as the best solo record of Davies’ career. That says a lot, but then again, there’s never been any doubt that Ray Davies will deliver.