Working Man's Cafe
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Working Man s Cafe a new studio album by legendary musician and Rock n Roll Hall of Fame member Ray Davies (founder, singer, songwriter of The Kinks), features 12 new songs written by Davies, and co-produced with Grammy® Award winning producer/engineer Ray Kennedy (Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle). Recorded in Nashville, Working Man s Café is Davies second solo album, following his solo debut Other People s Lives, released in 2006.
Working Man s Café, focuses on the plight of the worker, the every day man around the world. It is Davies American record (many of the songs were written and all produced in the US) describing the changes he s seen in this country since he first started visiting in the 60s. In a recent four star Mojo Magazine review Davies is described as having a tourist s blend of enchantment and bafflement when writing about the United States
2008 must be an interesting year to have an outsider's view on the US and its role in the world, and when Ray Davies sings "everywhere I go it looks and feels like America," it's hard to miss a bit of the bitterness in the observation. His second studio solo album in three years, Working Man's Cafe feels like exactly the album a 60-something rocker would craft--assured and direct yet searching and restless, a glimpse into the head of a man who's comfortable in his skin but still wonders how he fits into a world that seems to be turning faster and stranger as the years pass by. Davies has cultivated this contraposition of bitter and sweet, of intertwining comfort and conflict throughout his years leading the Kinks, and now continues into what looks to be a fruitful solo career. There's a bit of George Harrison in the melody and sentiment of "One More Time," acknowledging the widening gap between powerful corporations and the overtaxed little guy, while still envisioning the possibility of a brighter future. And the title track's half-acidic, half-nostalgic take on modern homogenization follows the classic Davies approach of reporting what he sees around him with one eye toward a fading past: "I bought a pair of new designer pants where the fruit and veg man used to stand." It's nice to note that, 40 years on, the songwriter that skewered '60s Brits with "A Well-Respected Man" and "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" still wields a sharpened pen and pulls no punches. --Ben HeegeSee all Editorial Reviews
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"Working Man's Cafe" is a strong follow up to his superb, meticulous first true solo effort "Other Peoples Lives" released in 2006. I have been listening to the import version of WMC for a few months now but also purchased the U.S. release because it contains two additional excellent new songs as well as alternate versions of other tracks. The music on this collection feels quite visceral and spontaneous. It would be well suited for live performances. The sound is clearly 21st century, yet there are scattered shards within that make one reminiscent of the classic Kinks albums such as "Arthur" and "Something Else". This CD is smooth listening from start to finish and your favorites are likely to shift with time. Vocally Ray Davies is as strong as ever and much attention has been given to the sound quality and arrangements. The title cut along with: "Imaginary Man", Vietnam Cowboys and especially "In a Moment" get honorable mention but all the songs are memorable in their own way. Uninitiated listeners not familiar with this performer's body of work should find this collection very enjoyable even if they lack the proclivity to ruminate over the lyrics like some of us might.
I will always remember the Kinks with great appreciation and fondness even with the occasional uneveness of some of their albums. With this second impressive solo effort; Ray Davies has fortified his stature as a valued independent artist in his own right. I no longer lament for a Kinks reunion...but instead...only hope this performer maintains his zest for life and music so we can continue to be so royally entertained for many more years to come.
By the end of the day, I have come away quite joyous over the album and its content. As you might expect from any Kinks and/or Ray Davies set of songs - really one and the same, I guess - the message is of an intensely personal nature. It's one man's view of the world and its events. However, at the same time, because of Mr. Davies' amazing, transcendent ability to view both the one and the whole at the same time, it is a work that will resonate with almost anyone.
And, coming, as it does, in the midst of what could well be a profound sea-change in the body politic of the United States, it is eerily prescient that this album is quite likely the least English of any that Davies or the band has done with only two or three songs addressing that little island across the pond. But, despite the US-centricness of the album, Mr. Davies still mourns and rails against those wishing to destroy "little shops, china cups and virginity." But, this time many of the attacks are directed against entities far more tangible and, in point of fact, much more risky. Davies takes on - as he has many times in the past - the duel-headed leviathan of corporate disdain and bureaucracy.
The former is addressed in the first cut, a melodic tirade about the movement of jobs offshore and portrayed against a backdrop of New Orleans. It could have just as well been an attack on the Queen Mary II having to be built in France. There are also other references to lost jobs and lost dreams on other cuts. The latter is addressed across three songs and it is here that Davies delves into his personal life in the greatest depth.
I think we are all aware of the fact that Davies was shot in the wake of a robbery attempt. The story - perhaps at first amusing [Ray Davies chasing a bandit who had stolen a girlfriend's purse] - became a bit more serious and dire as Davies' hospital stay extended. In these songs - not really a song-cycle but linked thematically - we learn of pain; a possible addiction to morphine, the failure of law enforcement to capture the perpetrator and how someone - through no fault of their own - can be mishandled by the American equivalent of those "men in gray." It's pretty deep stuff to be covered in a pop album, but also quite emblematic of where the American dream resides in the early 21st Century.
And, as with any Davies-written album, there is a love song of sorts. `Peace in Our Time' must be listened to both for its weariness with conflict and its sense of just how important it is to have someone. After hearing it, I was compelled to dig out `Animal' and marvel in the similarity of context. Sometimes, I guess, it takes time - with its opportunity to look back - to decide winning isn't everythomg.
For me, the only piece that didn't work was `Voodoo Walk,' a John Fogerty clone that seemed to offer little but a claustrophobic view of confinement; perhaps another song related to Davies' hospitalization.
To my mind, Working Man's Café fits into the pantheon with Village Green Preservation Society, Muswell Hillbillies, and Lola vs Powerman and the Moneygoround for works that are emotional bridges.
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