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Working Man's Cafe Import
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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 Heege
"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.