Tag Archives: Muswell Hillbillies

New Album! Ray Davies

And while the world continues to wait for a new Kinks album…

See My Friends is the latest effort from Ray Davies, a duets album of sort featuring guest artists from across the musical landscape. Even as a fan of tribute albums I must admit that I dread these affairs, for recording with the honored artist usually results in one of two things – deferring to the honoree or an awkward mix of styles…and sometimes both. Although not scheduled for release in America until April, wily Kinks fans know the album is currently one click away at Amazon UK.

The album lurches off to an unfortunate start with “Better Things”, a normally irresistible tune punctured by the growling Bruce Springsteen; if anything it proves how much better a vocalist Ray Davies is by comparison. Bon Jovi fares no better, with a turgid bar band version of “Celluloid Heroes” minus the panache, and Metallica fails to add anything to “You Really Got Me” that Van Halen didn’t already do a quarter century ago…and better. Billy Corgan’s version of “Destroyer” is as lame and irrelevant as he is. Jackson Browne and Lucinda Williams (the latter backed by The 88) are fine but unremarkable, but it is poignant to hear the late, great Alex Chilton (a longtime Kinks fan) cover “Til The End of The Day”

While the veteran rockers mostly disappoint, those from the current era fare better, although mostly sticking to safe arrangements. Gary Lightbody, lead singer of Snow Patrol, is a natural complement to Ray’s warble, sounding fragile and exhausted on “Tired Of Waiting”. Spoon is a wise match for the title track and craft an arrangement that fits their style well. And while sticking to her normal voice Paloma Faith is dynamic during “Lola”, although switching to Minnie Mouse falsetto during harmonies is jarring. And I like Amy MacDonald’s contribution on “Dead End Street” but the mood is ruined by the small talk between she and Ray at the end – whose brilliant idea was that?

The clear standout on the album is Mumford & Sons; their organic performance brings new life to “Days” and “This Time Tomorrow” and the medley is brilliantly executed. I would love to hear Ray take on the entire Muswell Hillbillies album with them. And since there doesn’t seem to be a Kinks reunion in the works – on record or live – I hope he pursues a collaboration like that before it’s too late.

Video: Ray Davies with Mumford & Sons

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Paying Tribute! The Kinks

Another in a series of Kinks tribute albums, Unkovered features a mostly lesser-known roster of artists who produce mixed results. About half the songs are from the classic late 60s period, but I was glad to see the usual targets like “You Really Got Me” skipped over and tracks like “Dandy” and “Who’ll Be The Next In Line” get covered.

Some of the artists offer little more than straight cover versions. Ghosts of Electricity handles “Sunny Afternoon” about as well as you’d expect a bar band to play it, and James O’Malley’s odd pauses in “Celluloid Heroes” gives it an odd Harry Chapin flavor but neither track sticks in your head.  On the other hand, while Maura Kennedy’s cover of “Autumn Almanac” doesn’t vary much from the original arrangement, her lilting voice perfectly suits the song, and she inhabits it with spirit and heart.

A couple of my favorite tracks have been given a country flavor, and why not? Muswell Hillbillies, Percy and Village Green Preservation Society did nothing if not celebrate family, hearth and home from the English perspective. The Corduroy Sky’s take on “Holloway Jail” morphs from simple acoustic riffs to a lightweight version of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Caroline Doctorow’s beautiful “Oklahoma USA” (with Maura and Pete Kennedy backing up) is the standout cut on the album along with The Blaggards’ “Last of the Steam Powered Trains”.

Other artists took chances; Smile Pretty Misery treats “Set Me Free” like a dark confessional, while The Lone Sharks threw “Willesden Green” through an Elvis Presley filter. Johnny Cuomo’s ragged voice makes Rod Stewart sound silky, but at least he infuses some emotion into “Dead End Street”, much like Patrick Costello’s wailing guitars save “Give The People What They Want”. There are disappointments – I found Tara Eberle’s “Do It Again” and Claudia Jacobs’ “Loony Balloon” pretty tepid – but for a regional label (Long Island, NY) it’s a pretty decent tribute disc.

Die-hard Kinks fans collect everything related to their heroes; hopefully they will find a few favorites on Unkovered to listen to alongside This is Where I Belong, Shangri-La, Give The People What We Want and the other loving tips of the cap.

Listen to clips from Unkovered at Amazon.

Unkovered is released on Paradiddle Records.

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