Ray Davies – [Album]

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Sometimes when the 'rock n' roll' context and instrumentation of even the most classic songs is removed or augmented, it becomes readily apparent just how poor or flat-out dumb and laughable the music of the genre can be. For example, when the Flaming Lips covered “Borderline” (a Madonna song) and ended up totally changing the face of it with only a little testosterone, the song just wilted. Conversely, Paul Anka's Rock Swings! album – which collected monster hits from the songbooks of Van Halen, Nirvana, Bon Jovi, R.E.M. and Oasis among others and adapted them to swing music time signatures and tibres – it turned out pretty magically and ended up introducing Anka to a new, younger audience. Not every track on Anka's run through pop was a winner though – Soundgarden's “Black Hole Sun” was a bad pick in the case of that album. The point is that such endeavors could go either way and not all “good” rock songs are created equal; some of them are very reliant on the quirks of the original performer and others need the technical sloppiness that rock bands revel in and classically trained musicians abhor.

With that in mind, it's understandable how sketchy the prospect of Ray Davies performing a set of classic Kinks songs with a world-class and celebrated vocal choir might be – the results can only go one of two ways.

The recognition of such perils is precisely what makes The Kinks Choral Collection such an enjoyable relief. Of course, from the opening swell of “Days,” the totality of the proceedings can and will draw comparisons to the Rolling Stones' “You Can't Always Get What You Want” because, largely dominated by acoustic performances backed by an angelic choir, it's the obvious comparison to make but, more than that song, when stripped of rock trappings, the performances of “You Really Got Me,” “Shangri-La” and “All Day And All Of The Night” scrub up nicely and offer beautiful – almost religiously intoned – interpretations of songs that were already regarded as rock n' roll gospel. Davies plays along too; leaving all the nasal growl that the songs normally possess at home, he sings sweet and pretty throughout which gives the proceedings the impression of being heartfelt attempts. Because of that treatment, while the best-known songs are certainly enjoyable in an 'I can't believe it worked' sort of way, later ones like “Working Man's Cafe” and “See My Friends” all hold more charm because they appear less novel here; the treatment is so carefully wrought that those songs take on a timeless quality that leaves it possible to believe they were written yesterday with the inclusion of a choir in mind. That versatility – the notion that these songs can endure and not remain locked in a particular time – will simultaneously draw the uninitiated in and serve to warm the hearts of long, long, long-time fans.

In the end, as “All Day And All Of The Night” fades and ends on the sort of explosive high note most performers pray for in a live setting, Choral Collection reveals itself as the best sort of novelty: instantly recognizable because of the timeless nature of the songs, but also surprising because the arrangements here breathe a new sort of life and whimsy into them. In that way, The Kinks Choral Collection is a fantastic listen because it bridges matter you know with well-performed style that it's unlikely anyone would have ever expected.


Ray Davies Online

Ray Davies Myspace


The Kinks Choral Collection
will be available as an import from the UK and Europe on August 11, 2009 on Uni Classic Jazz UK. While a North American release will occur on Decca, the date has not yet been set. Pre-order it here on Amazon .

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