• SoundStage! InSight - Amphion Overview and Technologies (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! Insight - Totem Acoustic Signature One Loudspeaker (June 2017)
  • SoundStage! Encore - The Cowboy Junkies'
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Anthem's STR Integrated Amplifier (May 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Paradigm's Perforated Phase Alignment (PPA) Lenses (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Paradigm's Persona 9H Loudspeaker (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Contrasts: Dynaudio's Contour and Focus XD Speaker Lines (February 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - New Technologies in MartinLogan's Masterpiece Series
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Dynaudio/Volkswagen Car Audio (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Gryphon Philosophy and the Kodo and Mojo S Speakers (January 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- What's a Tonmeister? (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - AxiomAir N3 Wireless Speaker System (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90 (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Gryphon Diablo 120 Integrated Amplifier (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Dynaudio History and Driver Technology (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - The Story How Gryphon Began (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Devialet History, ADH Technology, and Expert 1000 Pro (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Devialet's Phantom Loudspeakers (August 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh Home Theater and Streaming Audio (July 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh MC275 Stereo Amplifier (June 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh History and Autoformer Technology (June 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - NAD Viso HP50 Headphones (May 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - GoldenEar Technology's Anechoic Chamber (May 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - PSB's M4U 4 Earphones (April 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - GoldenEar Technology's Triton Two+ and Three+ Loudspeakers (March 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- KEF's LS50 (February 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Monitor Audio's Platinum II Series (January 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Pryma 0|1 Headphones (December 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- KEF's Blade Two Loudspeaker (November 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- KEF and the Uni-Q (October 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Monitor Audio Acoustics & Aesthetics (August 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- PSB's Imagine T3 Loudspeaker (June 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Hegel's H160 Integrated Amplifier-DAC (April 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- MartinLogan's Neolith Loudspeaker (February 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Paradigm's Prestige Series (December 2014)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Vivid Audio's Giya Series (October 2014)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Totem Acoustic's Torrent Technology (August 2014)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Axiom Audio's M100 v4 Loudspeaker (May 2014)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Muraudio's Domain Omni Series (March 2014)

Sony Legacy 88875102362
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

It’s hard to think of a songwriter from the great British bands of the 1960s who is more British in his themes and music than Ray Davies. Two of his masterpieces with the Kinks, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (1968) and Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) (1969), look at various aspects of English life and the ways they changed in the 20th century as the Empire declined.

On the other hand, Davies, like many of his contemporaries in the UK, was enormously influenced by American rock’n’roll, and lived for a time in New Orleans. His relationship with the States has been difficult. He threw a punch at a stagehand in 1965, which got the Kinks banned from performing in the US for four years, and was shot in the leg during a robbery in New Orleans.

Americana

Americana, Davies’s fifth solo album, is a look at America through the eyes of an English songwriter whose view of the country was formed through music and movies, then changed over the years as he experienced it firsthand. In the title tune, he recalls his romance with the America he saw in films as a boy. Twangy guitar lines courtesy the Jayhawks, who back Davies throughout the album, give this track a good-ol’-boy ambience that’s solidified by Melvin Duffy’s pedal steel guitar. Davies’s lyrics express a longing for a past that Americans themselves often sentimentalize.

“A Place in Your Heart” contains as many echoes of singing cowboys from films as from country music. Karen Grotberg, who sings and plays keyboards for the Jayhawks, duets with Davies on this song, which evokes images of travel across the Midwest. The vastness of the landscape seems to emphasize the tenuousness and difficulty of relationships for a touring musician. Grotberg also helps out in “Message from the Road”; here again, Davies is adept at describing the complexity of remaining close to family when you’re halfway across the world.

“The Deal” shows sunny L.A. as a Mecca for con artists -- or, really, people who end up conning themselves. When Davies wrote “Celluloid Heroes,” in 1972, he gave Hollywood’s mixture of hope and failure a touch of tarnished glamour. Here the narrator is both despicable and pitiful. The same character could be narrating “Wings of Fantasy,” in which he sings of “Living in denial, chasing the dream.” The song’s bouncy melody presents a sunny exterior with a darker inner meaning.

Americana

I had to let Americana settle in for a while. The first few times I played it, I thought that, at nearly an hour, it was too long, and that trimming a track or two would have made for a tighter album. But a handful of listens later and Davies’s stories of the call of America and his experiences traveling through it as a touring musician came together, each song helping to fill in the picture. Davies has written about the life of a musician before, especially in Everybody’s in Show-Biz (1972), which focused on the monotony of touring; Americana goes deeper and looks at the emotional toll.

The Jayhawks, along with a few other musicians here and there, perform wonderfully in a variety of styles. Grotberg’s vocals, as both duet partner and backing singer, bring a tender quality to the songs that helps make Davies’s observations even more poignant. Josh Green and producer Guy Massey engineered and mixed the album, and Bob Ludwig mastered; the sound is natural and inviting.

Davies says he has another disc of material built around these same themes. After this return to form, I look forward to hearing it.

. . . Joseph Taylor
josepht@soundstagenetwork.com