Our Country: Americana Act ll
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
If history is any indication, Ray Davies should stay away from second acts. The Kinks’ Preservation Act 2 is generally regarded as one of the band’s weakest albums. As usual, it’s probably better to whittle the material down to a single solid album rather than expand it to over two hours, which is what happens here.
Backed by generally faceless musicians that happen to include the usually impressive Jayhawks, Americana Act ll is more of the same as its first part, just not as good. Davies mixes spoken word selections from his 2013 memoir Americana with more songs that reflect those stories. The concept is reasonable yet the execution on this second installment often falls flat. Opening “Our Country” is an over the top, near parody of a show tune about leaving the UK for the US. Unfortunately the following “The Invaders,” where Davies runs through his time in America as a touring UK musician, is turgid and bland. It’s unlikely most will want to hear it again.
Musically, Davies touches on jazz, country, pop and rock and roll, but few of the songs are memorable even after repeated plays. Davies delivers everything with his distinctive dry combination of talking and singing that sounds as vibrant as it did decades ago. Like on the previous album, the legendary singer-songwriter tries to cram too many lyrics into songs that aren’t robust enough melodically to hold their weight. That leaves thought-provoking ideas, like the aggressive groupie who wants to “f**k me an icon tonight” in the rocking “The Take,” as anecdotes better read in a book than sung. Some stories, such as the one about Davies’ bodyguard “The Big Guy,” don’t translate well into a rather weak country song. Much of the program concerns Davies’ time in New Orleans, what the city meant to him and to American music. It’s an interesting notion and yields the excellent track “March Of The Zombies,” which reflects the city’s jazz and blues with a propulsive swinging horn section.
Davies also revisits some older songs, in particular “Oklahoma USA” from Muswell Hillbillies, an album that also influences the closing clunky bluegrass rocker “Muswell Kills” on this musical autobiographical journey. The production and playing are consistently top notch, balancing an organic approach with slicker, more elaborate touches such as the irritating choir in the opener. Ultimately the album is easier to appreciate as an unusual, occasionally successful and diverting artistic project that tries to make sense of Davies’ love and apprehension about America, than it is to enjoy.
Up next is a film/theatre piece further milking this for even more product. Perhaps it’s time to retire the Americana thing and move onto a new venture, like the recently announced Kinks reunion.