#32 Ray Davies “Americana” – 52 Weeks of 2017 Albums

This record has been brewing deep within Ray Davies ever since The Kinks first touched down in America in the summer of 1965 for their first ever US tour, right before the now infamous four year performance ban imposed on the group by the American Federation of Musicians from 1966 through to 1969. Some 30 odd years later, around the time of the eventual demise of The Kinks in 1994, Davies published his first book, the semi-fictional memoir X-Ray, an experimental non-fiction “unauthorized” autobiography recounting his childhood and the early days of The Kinks. The subsequent promotional book tour culminated in what would eventually evolve into Storyteller, the 1996 VH1 television series, as well as the 1998 Ray Davies live album and concert tour of the same name. Fast forward to one and a half weeks after the fateful events of September 11th, 2001, where Davies found himself scheduled to appear in America once again as part of the US leg of his on-going Storyteller Tour. It was on this visit that the songs of Americana first began to take shape in late night hotel ruminations and on the road demo sessions, as documented in Davies’ 20 minute 2001 film Americana: A Work In Progress, first released as a bonus DVD accompanying Davies’s 2007 album Working Man’s Café.  Five years later saw the release of Davies’ second book, 2013’s Americana: The Kinks, the Road and the Perfect Riff and now, in 2017, the album version. 15 Years in the making, Americana is as close to a new Kinks record as we are ever likely to hear again. Backed by the recently re-formed American roots rock band The Jayhawks, Americana is first and foremost a band record. Whereas previous Davies albums utilized a host of disparate studio musicians this is the first time in a 20 plus year solo career that Davies has turned to a preexisting band for back up. Not unlike an American styled Village Green Preservation Society, this could very well be the final music chapter in a long and storied career for the 72 year old Davies whose vocal prowess is not what it once was even ten years ago. Ultimately, if Americana turns out to be Sir Ray’s swan song it will surely prove to be a more than fitting post script to a long and brilliant career penning some of the most poignant and literary pop music the century has known.

Rating: 9.5/10

2017ray-davies

#33 Scott Helman “Hôtel de Ville” – 52 Weeks of 2017 Albums

Nominated for Pop Album of the Year and Breakthrough Artist of the Year Juno Awards in 2016 for his seven-track EP Augusta, 21 year old Scott Helman returns with his first official full length debut record Hôtel de Ville. Anchored by the strength of powerhouse opening tracks Kites, Kinda Complicated and Sweet Tooth, these three pulsating sides, produced by veteran Canadian record producer Thomas “Tawgs” Salter, serve notice to sonically similar older and established acts The New Pornographers and Sam Roberts Band there is a new kid in town and contender to the throne.

Rating: 7/10

2017_scott_helman_hoteldeville

#34 Mac Demarco “This Old Dog” – 52 Weeks of 2017 Albums

Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips was recently quoted as saying that “it’s better to make ridiculous music than to make boring music”. Suffice it to say BC born Edmonton raised Canadian singer-songwriter Mac Demarco has not filled This Old Dog, his third full length release in five years, with ridiculous music. Cheesy keyboards and ’80’s drum machine beats feel gimmicky and tire quickly behind Demarco’s mediocre mid tempo acoustic musings, most of which would not stand out on your average open mic night. Demarco’s post-slacker millennial poster-boy clown act is not dissimilar to geriatric baby boomer Jimmy Buffet and his Margaritaville parrothead empire, it’s all about the shtick. Shtick sells records. Shtick fills seats. And in an era where it’s increasingly difficult to grab even the slightest bit of attention let alone the full 15 minutes, Demarco has opted to spend more time mugging with that familiar shit eating grin of his dreaming up even goofier ways to keep being noticed than on making any kind of meaningful music that has a shelf life longer than the current hip fad of the month.

Rating: 4/10

2017_DeMarcoOLD-DOG-DEMARCO

#35 Robyn Hitchcock “Robyn Hitchcock” – 52 Weeks of 2017 Albums

In a recording career spanning four decades since the Soft Boys recorded their first EP, Give It To The Soft Boys, at Spaceward studios, Cambridge, in the heady days of England’s punk rock infused 1977, Robyn Hitchcock, recipient of this year’s South By Southwest Grulke Prize for Career Act, has seen it fit to release his first ever eponymously titled studio album. And in the same month that has seen The Kink’s Sir Raymond Douglas Davies release the backward looking Americana album reflecting his ruminations on a particularly British take regarding the distinctly American experience, fellow Brit Hitchcock, now based in America’s music mecca of Nashville, Tennessee, has simultaneously released the backward looking self titled Robyn Hitchcock album reflecting his ruminations on the uniquely English experience of the 1960’s of his youth. Laying somewhere in between The Beatles’ Rubber Soul and Revolver albums, producer Brendan Benson has made the 22nd Robyn Hitchcock studio album the kind of Robyn Hitchcock album he has always wanted to hear, one full of huge bottom end melodic McCartney bass lines, bright pre-psych guitar flashes and slightly softened edges from the Peter Buck Venus 3 backing band of the previous decade. Hitchcock’s first full-on electrified band outing since 2009’s Goodnight Oslo proves a welcome response to the quieter acoustic efforts of his last few records. Perhaps only lacking a solid finish Robyn Hitchcock is an unapologetically guitar-centric rock ‘n’ roll record with nary a synthesizer to be found, exactly as it should be for an album basking in the glow of the pre-psychedelic psunshine of England’s halcyon days of the mid 1960’s.

Rating: 9/10

2017_robyn_hitchcock