Americana, the new Ray Davies solo album is a musical companion piece to his 2013 autobiography of the same name. The album reveals a deep fascination with American culture and his own experiences traversing its endless highways as a member of The Kinks. Davies is ably assisted on his journey with The Jayhawks providing subtle and sympathetic backing, it’s an inspired choice that really enhances the record.
The title track delves into Davies’ fascination with American culture, reminiscing on his childhood memories of American movies and his desire to escape his inner London surroundings for the uncertain expectations of the endless American highway. “Runnin high on inspiration, taken from those wile west heroes. Full of expectations of the road, on that windin trail to somewhere. Young and foolish though he did not care what dangers lay in store and so.”
The acerbic The Deal is Davies at his best, with his tongue firmly in his cheek as he skewers the shallow falseness of Los Angeles. Even in his contempt of what he sees around him he still views the city through a romantic lens, “Isn’t it wonderful, marvellous, utterly surreal. Totally fabulous, fraudulent, bogus and unreal. This is my lucky day, I’ll travel to L.A and get myself a deal.”
Message from The Road is the album’s highlight a poignant heartfelt reflection on The Kinks first visit to the U.S in 1965. Newly married and with a newborn daughter at home Davies ruminates on the loneliness and isolation he feels as the band travel from town to town on that endless American highway. With the glittering lights upon him Davies feels the pull of the rock and roll lifestyle and the guilt that it comes with. Davies duets with the Jayhawks’ Karen Grotberg and her amazing delicate vocals add to the emotional depth.
Worn and weary from the journey along the endless highway Davies asks the question where do the rock ‘n’ roll cowboys go when the road runs out, is there a new horizon or do you wind up on a shaky bar stool at the Last Chance Saloon. In the twilight of his life Davis still has questions to ask and mysteries to solve. “Rock ‘n’ roll cowboys on the ol wagon train, you had your time but it won’t come again. You rode the prairie and always stood proud, so tall in the saddle and your was not bowed.”
A Long Drive Home To Tarzana has Ray searching for stability, the endless highway is desolate and disconnected but where is home? The glorious sunshine of California beckons the utopia that is Tarzana, open space and tranquillity, it’s been a long drive home but the experience has been worth it. The Great Highway is the perfect definition of the ethos of Americana, the widespread vista with its illusions of hope and promise, an intoxicating promise for a young man from North London. “The great illusion it may be but always something there to see. Always some hick little down to pick you up when you are down. Another day, another shake, malted with a slice of cake.”
Americana is Davies doing what he does best, creating a vintage panorama, where once the lens was turned towards the peculiarities of English life he now casts his light upon the great highways of America. These roads weren’t often kind to him and the Kinks in the early days but they never diluted his sense of romanticism and enthusiasm for the American Dream.