He may be rock royalty, but Ray Davies of the Kinks has always been a friend of a friend of the working class who knows how to parlay his keen observational skills into hummable social commentary. Over the last few years, he’s mingled with commoners stateside, and Working Man’s Cafe is his dire assessment of a global superpower hurtling toward economic collapse, seemingly oblivious to the fact that there’s even worse news on the horizon. Despite the somewhat pessimistic prognosis, Davies is a sharp enough tunesmith to keep his darkly droll song cycle upbeat and rockin’ throughout.
Ray Davies took his time crafting his first full-fledged solo album Other People's Lives, delivering it in 2006 -- a full 13 years after his last collection of original material, the Kinks' final album Phobia. Such a long gestation period seemed justified, as the album was an exquisitely written set of short stories that benefited from such exacting attention to detail, yet the length of time between Phobia and Other People's Lives also suggested that Davies would not be returning with his second solo album anytime soon. As it turns out, that wasn't the case: Davies hammered out his second album, Working Man's Café, with a speed recalling the '60s and '70s, when new Kinks albums arrived every year.
If, say, ”Waterloo Sunset” contained silly lines like ”Corporations get the tax breaks/While the city gets the crime,” would Ray Davies still be considered one of his generation’s best songwriters? Based on this latest release, Working Man’s Cafe, the answer might just be ”yes.” The above mouthful from ”One More Time” and other clunky social commentary can’t mask a cache of Kinks-worthy melodies, including the aforementioned track, the gorgeous ”The Real World,” and ”You’re Asking Me,” which could almost be a lost tune from the late ’60s. B+DOWNLOAD THIS: ”You’re Asking Me” .
As game as Other People's Lives seesawed, Ray Davies' 2006 solo debut cranked up ancient machinery sure to warm up slowly. Co-produced by Ray Kennedy in Nashville, Working Man's Café wipes up the studio sheen of its predecessor with a comfortable roots groove that Davies' Kinks helped perfect in the early-1970s. Opener "Vietnam Cowboys" traverses 40 years of Brit-rock on global industry; the title cut blue collars the Kinks' Village Green Preservation Society; and harmonies on "Morphine Song" puree Dave Davies.