The Songs of Ray Davies
At best, the performers on most so-called “tribute” albums are either too respectful of their source material to step outside of the original arrangements or too lackadaisical to demonstrate any respect at all. In the case of this new release showcasing the songs of Ray Davies, leader of that seminal ‘60s British rock band The Kinks, there are at least a few performers who realize the songwriter’s intentions better than he did.
Specifically, Kentucky “new” bluegrass musician Tim O’Brien’s rendition of “Muswell Hillbilly” believably delivers the countrified sad anger over a vanishing world intended by its composer; Jonathan Richman’s stripped down “Stop Your Sobbing” implies a nice anti-war message; Bebel Gilberto’s take on “No Return” beautifully conjures a Brazilian jazz club; Yo La Tengo’s rendition of “Fancy” creates an enveloping synthesized drone, sonically visualizing the emotional cocoon suggested in the lyrics.
Further, even the more "reverent" versions of Davies’ tunes come off as at least enthusiastic (Cracker’s boozy, high-energy "Victoria"), and you even get Ray himself (backed by Damon Albarn) crooning that great lost gem "Waterloo Sunset" before a studio audience. Ultimately, this proves to be an engagingly eclectic and entertaining offering.