Davies is clearly fascinated by America’s contradictions of excitement and
glamour on the one hand, and wild - often brutally violent - behaviour on the
Our Country: Americana Act II (released 29 June on Sony Legacy) explores these themes, but it is also part of a much bigger project. In 2013 Davies published a biography, Americana, and then a DVD entitled Americana — a work in progress. Now Davies has released the album Americana Act II, but he is also reportedly working on a further film and theatre performance on the same theme; this is a man who is clearly in the zone.
Davies has returned to work with the Minnesota-based country rock band The Jayhawks on his latest release, and this choice is certainly reflected in a lot of the songs. As Davies himself says: “Working with different musicians you absorb their personalities and inject their own subconscious into the performance.” Perhaps surprisingly after soaking himself in all things America, Davies chose to record the album in London’s Konk Studios.
The man sometimes referred to as ‘The Godfather of Britpop’ has decided to rework three of the 19 songs on the album - including new ‘countrified’ versions of the Kinks’ track Oklahoma U.S.A., and The Real World, from Davies’ 2007 solo LP Working Man’s Café – but the vast majority of songs are new material.
“Our Country follows my journey across America; through endless tours - not just to reclaim The Kinks’ career, but to rediscover the country that offered me my earliest inspirations,” Davies has said. Part of that epic journey included Davies surviving being shot while chasing a mugger through the streets of New Orleans. “Why did I do it? That’s the unanswerable question," Davies said. "I’ve never really been the sort of person who would chase a man with a loaded gun. But I did it. It was one of those heat-of-the-moment situations and I have no explanation other than that.”
The first single and opening song from the album explores some of these ambivalent feelings he has towards the US. Our Country is a rocking number with some lovely strumming on what looks like a Gibson Hummingbird Pro. The music well-suits the message and tone of the lyrics: “This is my country, And I can’t believe, that one day I’d want to leave these shores forever,” Davies sings. It is a song about leaving a country and arriving in another and in that sense it segues well into the following track, The Invaders, in which Davies reflects on the period he was touring America with The Kinks. Unfortunately however the latter is nowhere near as strong as the title track.
The Take is better, riffing off a page from his biography and exploring the diversity of cultures in America, which for Davies, include his experiences with the ‘rock chicks’. He focuses on one particular ‘blonde’ who seemingly impacted him because of her aggressiveness: “because I want you, I’m going to take you […]” she says, “I’m gonna fuck me an icon tonight”. It provides interesting material for the song, but it sounds like Davies is still recovering from the experience.
The following dreamy We Will Get There is musically stimulating, but much less interesting in terms of lyrics, which is a disappointment from one of Britain’s most inspired songwriters. “We will get there if it takes us through the night, when we get there everything will be alright, when we get there we will see the morning light, we will be alright” Davies sings - but one wonders why.
March Of The Zombies is much stronger. It contains a vibrant wind instrument section and feeds off the buzz of New Orleans’ blues and jazz tradition. “My mornings were spent listening to local radio, but the night time spooked me out with all the talk of voodoo, the living dead and the zombies everywhere,” he sings, until you amusingly realise he is talking about his neighbours: “See them walking down the road, see them everywhere you go.”
Ray Davies’ enormous talent means that Our Country: Americana Act II contains some lovely moments, but this album grew from songs that were not included in Act I, and that can be felt. For die-hard fans and for those who loved the first part this album is likely to bring comfort and reward, but to others it might seem a little indulgent. However Davies clearly doesn’t care as he is committed to continuing with his strong artistic passion of the moment; and history has shown us many times that that is exactly what a genius must do.