Album Review

The Wistful Frontier

Ray Davies - Americana

Looking forward to this one...

Since the Kinks are one of my favorite groups and Ray Davies one of the great songwriters of our era and the Jayhawks a much appreciated group I too am looking forward to this release.

A British reviewer who used to contribute to this site, Alan Harrington, but stopped contributing and has his own blog, the Rocking Magpie, once dismissed the Kinks as a hit single band and said no one he knew really takes them seriously over there. This amazed me as I consider them one of the greatest of the "British invasion" bands and "Muswell Hillbillies" as one of their most accomplished masterpieces. He replied that he is barely aware of that release and dismissed it too at the time but he admitted he got a lot of negative feedback from Americans over his opinion. It's usually the other way around where Europeans appreciate American artists that are obscure over here.

Ray Davies was born with a gift, enhanced by his working class circumstances, for pulling everyone's leg, getting people with money to take the bit, while he took their money. Add this to his enormous artistic gift and it's fertile ground for American gaga sincerity.

This comment makes me like him even least he was taking money from people who had it and gave it willingly...and he does have an artistic gift so it isn't a con job...there isn't anyone who was a success in the music business who didn't make several other people rich along the way...Davies included...if he got his 15 or 20% out of it good for him...that makes him the exception...

Oh, I wasn't criticizing him at all. It's American naivete that would assume so, and that there's not some con, legitimately so, in all art.


I didn't assume you were criticizing him actually...I meant what I said...I like him even better now...when Chrissie Hynde used to wax over his work I used to think "well he's good, but he's not that good"...if he was really smart enough to inject some art into commerce, and he convinced the money interest that he had something that they weren't perceptive enough to actually hear or see themselves, then good for him...Like I said, I seriously doubt he even got out of it what he actually deserved...few in the music business on the artist side of it ever have.

A lot of Brits have a tendency to minimize his contribution (I am not assuming your nationality by the way)...I have picked up on this over the years when the Kinks or Ray/Dave come band...and the singles are great...but so are some of the albums...that's all I was saying...

I didn't get the Gaga reference either, no doubt that is my naivete as well...I just didn't care enough about what you meant to ask... 

I guess I'm dense but I don't know what you mean by "American gaga sincerity." If you're saying those who dismiss the Kinks are perspicacious and we who are fans are gullible idiots I couldn't disagree with you more.

Wow, that's a lot to assume, and mistakenly so. I wasn't, and wouldn't ever dismiss the Kinks. "You Really Got Me", punk before it was named, was the first song to hit me in the gut, where rock is supposed to. And I love Ray, in part because he's not always sincere, but jaundiced, as any sane person ought to be living in these times. 

I've just had it with all this bright, sunny, typically American, cloyingly and predictably positivist attitude about everything, of which your response is perfect example. The Kinks and Davies sure as hell didn't make music that way, so why not apply a little more critical intelligence to what we're talking about instead of just "Yay Ray, whoohooo" (you know, that same white person sound you hear at every single concert you go to - doesn't that cloned noise that virtually every approving fan makes seem a bit banal and weird by now?). The weirder this country gets, in part because its populace is so witless, the more people double down on the "be happy, things will get better, art will save us, we can do it" BS, clearly a disproven theory, as if ignoring the evil right under our noses has become so habitual we're addicted to denying it.

I realize this is off the main point, but everything's related, and most of what I see, both from this "Americana" magazine and from its commenters, is all this "gee whiz, isn't it great" stuff. You can love music without being a cheerleader. And in fact, if it can stand on its own in the light of more perspicacious interpretation, without being hyped, it's very likely better.

Jaundiced...I like that...if I were jaundiced enough, I'd make a "yellow person sound" instead of a "that same white person sound"...


Wow Srauworth, I thought I was a cynic but you may have me beat--not on your assessment of many Americans but when it comes to music. I have eclectic tastes but I think I'm discerning and I like to praise the artists I think are great. The ones I don't I don't usually comment about because I've decided to follow Ben Sidran's dictum: "Music either moves you or doesn't." So I choose not to try to show how clever I am by putting down music I loathe but others might like. To each his own. Now when it comes to the politics of a musician like Ted Nugent--then fuck him! He should go back under the rock he came from which I suppose he did with his recent visit to the White House.

Srauworth — When it comes to music, I'm guilty of being the sort of happy-ass commentator that you despise—cloyingly and predictably positive.  I've been a Kinks fan since I was a kid and "You Really Got Me" grabbed me by the throat.  One of my all-time favorite rock shows was the Kinks at the Greek Theater in Berkeley circa 1980-1981. Joe Ely opened.    

One of the reasons I haven't been overly excited about Ray's new album is that I'm not a Jayhawks fan—I love the Americana genre, but the Jayhawks bore me to tears. (I'd have been all in on Ray backed by the Old 97s.)  Ordinarily I'd have kept that to myself. I'm as cynical and grouchy as the next curmudgeon, but I save most of my bileous posts for political websites.  

I got over being a sneering, self-righteous tool about tastes in music a long, long time ago—got it out of my system during the "disco sucks" era.  That doesn't mean I won't occasionally post something like, "Man, this new Drive-By Truckers album just doesn't send me. The Isbell songs in particular are disappointing—like he's saving the good stuff for his upcoming solo record."  But like most people here, I'm logging onto a genre-specific music website to express my appreciation for the artists and their songs.  Not to be a penis with limbs.

Thanks for "perspicacious."  Word of the day.                

Without being a cheerleader, I think SRAUWORTH makes some good points re: the cheerleader thing here. I know I'm guilty of that with an occasional comment, but I'm really not a music critic; perhaps those that are at ND could take the critic part a bit more to heart.  

Critic...a person who judges, evaluates, or analyzes literary or artistic works, dramatic or musical performances, or the like, especially for a newspaper or magazine. I'd say your last sentence is relevant Will...I'm not a music critic either, nor do I desire to be one...I wouldn't waste the time it takes to write about something I didn't like or connect with, and I am also guilty as charged of being praiseworthy about the stuff I like out here...perhaps that is the stance most of ND's reviewers are taking as well...they hear other things, but only write about the ones they like or that resonate with them personally?  And I'd agree there isn't much crtiticism on ND, and that maybe there should be more...that's the thing about it being a blog and just online for years, and now it's a magazine that still maintains the blog, albeit not with the same enthusiasm they used to...Still trying to define what it is exactly...or so it seems to me...

You guys are all so sweet in the face of Srauworth's absolutely naked contempt.  

Following from the apocraphyl Freud quote that somtimes a cigar is just a cigar, it's also true that sometimes a dick is just a dick.

Thanks for making me laugh Steve. That's something harder and harder to do in these Trumpian days in which the world's biggest dick in now our...ugh, it pains me to say it: President.

I laughed out loud myself Steve...I guess I'm just going to have to fess up to being a cheerleader for the music I love, and having to shoulder the burden of Srauworth's "absolutely naked contempt"...It's quite a weight but I'll bear it uncomplaining...or maybe just grumbling a little...

Like Dennis, I'm more than a little bummed at the Oval Office, and downright disconsolate about the news about Jimmy LaFave, one of my all time favorite singers and songwriters (and I've defintiely been his cheerleader over the years) being terminally ill...I needed a laugh...thanks!

There's a Go Gund Me page for Jimmy that I mention for two reasons, one being the proceeds go to his handpicked charities most having to do with the arts, but also because the New England songwriter Vance Gilbert, who is a fine singer and songwriter in his own right described Jimmy's voice this way on that page, and I also laughed out loud when I read it..."I used to joke that (when) Jimmy sings it sounded like Aaron Neville and Bob Dylan both crawled up his ass and try to get out his mouth at the same time.. All in love and adoration, for if I was half the singer Jimmy is I'd be twice the singer I am."  

And that is actually a pretty accurate description of Jimmy's singing, and it's great...I'd still put "Trail" (or as it is now called "Trail One") up as about the best live record I've ever heard...



Thanks Jim for that humorus description of Jimmy LaFave's voice which was creative to say the least. When you told me about Jimmy's health problems it was devastating as he in now one of my favorites too after you introduced me to him on this site some time ago. Let's hope for a miracle which, unfortunately, it sounds like what it would take.

Based on the stuff I've read, that is what it would take...Spindle Cell's rare, responds to treatment only if you catch it early...

Your comment is interesting, but what do you mean by "American gaga sincerity"?

Not a term I am familiar with.

I made it up. I think it's meaning is clear enough.

"I've just had it with all this bright, sunny, typically American, cloyingly and predictably positivist attitude about everything..."


I don't know what America or Americana music you are referencng.

All that bright, sunny, positivist attitude is under siege right now. You also seem unaware of the deep streak of fear and paranoia that pervades the USA and has done so since the Cold War and Vietnam proved that we don't have the answers to humanity's problems and we aren't perfect after all.  Current popular music reflects this pretty well...lots of slow, sad, introspective stuff and crappy, mindless dance music. I tend to look for more upbeat, uptempo music mself, but I am hardly sunny in my outlook.

Pardon us if we don't fit your stereotype. Of course, Americans don't really know much about today's England, either...

TommyLee — No kidding.  Is there anything less reflective of a collective bright, sunny, and positive attitude than electing a highly delusional megalomaniac as POTUS while in the throes of a paraniod, reactionary lurch toward proto-fascism?  

The nation's current mood is about as sunny as a Cormac McCarthy novel.