Ray and Dave Davies, the estranged brothers from the Kinks, can’t escape one another. Whether by coincidence or coordinated marketing strategy, each Davies has released a solo album, setting themselves up for combined reviews such as this one.
Americana is Ray’s first record since 2008; Dave has been more prolific but, as ever, lower profile. Americana is a companion piece, of sorts, to the newly knighted Sir Ray Davies’ recent memoir and includes a few brief recitations from the book. The songs recount incidents from the Kinks’ American tours and from his stints living in New Orleans and New York. Kinks geeks will relish the autobiographical elements. Fittingly, Ray drafted the Jayhawks, an archetypal Americana band, to back him, and his album is a pastiche of styles: some rootsy rock ’n’ roll, a bit of country twang, a cowboy song, a duet with Jayhawks keyboardist Karen Grotberg.
On Open Road, Dave partners with his son Russ, who has a background in electronica and producing, for a set heavy on stately, strained mid-tempo ballads. There are only a few glimmers of Dave’s electrifying guitar playing. He changed the world a half-century ago with the blown-speaker sound of “You Really Got Me,” but he’s mostly restrained here, content to strum as he and Russ sing together.
These are nostalgic albums, but that’s no surprise: Ray has been writing nostalgic songs at least since 1968’s “The Village Green Preservation Society.” Ray’s album gets the edge for wit, variety and narrative, but both men’s voices are weathered and weary, and they weigh down the songs. Don’t expect a return to any of the Kinks’ numerous glory days, but maybe that sibling friction is a spark that can be rekindled. Dave has spread rumors that he recorded some demos with his brother not long ago.