Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Kinks Muswell Hillbillies 1971

On this, their first for RCA after leaving Reprise, Ray Davies moves the focus of his keen eye for detail from the English middle class a step down to the English working (and not-working) class. And while the title might make you think this is the Kinks' country record, it isn't. It has some Americana overtones, with much acoustic rhythm guitar, a horn section right out of New Orleans, and a warm, earthy sound reminiscent of The Band records of the same era.

The first side is all good. 20th Century Man leads off, and acts as an overture for the record's theme of a world gone crazy with over-modernization. The horns light up Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues. Holiday is a music hall-styled shuffle that celebrates a small life's very small pleasures. Skin And Bone finds Ray lamenting his woman's diet, and Dave brings a killer guitar riff. Alcohol, set to a New Orleans funeral dirge/march warns dramatically of "Oh! Demon Alcohol", and Ray knows his way around the topic. Complicated Life ends the side, and it is just one of Ray's great songs."Gotta stand and face it, life is sooo complicated".

Side two dips a bit in quality, about half of it holds up. Here Come The People In Grey is a chugging rocker. Dave's guitar is hot, and it sounds like a lost Faces song in the best of ways. Oklahoma USA is sweet, and foreshadows Ray's interest in Hollywood that will take shape on their next record, 1972's Everybody's In Show-biz. Muswell Hillbilly wraps the record up on a high musical note, with an irresistible Davies chorus and some good country-sounding guitar. But Have A Cup Of Tea is trite both musically and lyrically, Holloway Jail is an overly simple blues, and Uncle Son is just slow and depressing.

For the most part, a good Kinks record. It's always nice when one side is particularly strong and can be played all the way through. I have always liked it, especially for the warm sound, the horn arrangements, and some funny and heartfelt songs.

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