Sunday, November 30, 2014

CD Review: Dave Davies' Rippin' Up Time

Dave Davies' Rippin' Up Time
Guitarist Dave Davies has had the good – or bad, depending on your perspective – fortune to be a talented songwriter in a legendary band with a great wordsmith in his brother Ray. But the younger Davies brother’s imaginative and influential fretwork over the decades was as integral a part of the Kinks sound as was Ray’s words and vocals, and the occasional Dave song recorded by the band during its commercial run (“Love Me Till The Sun Shines,” “Funny Face,” and “Trust Your Heart” among them) proved that he had the goods.

Davies has also enjoyed a sporadic but modestly successful career as a solo artist apart from the band, notably 1980’s AFL1-3603 and 1983’s Chosen People, but the guitarist put aside his own efforts for 20 years to contribute to the Kinks, reappearing as a solo artist with 2002’s Bug. He’s since made up for lost time, releasing a string of five critically-acclaimed studio and live albums during the new millennium that culminates in 2014’s Rippin’ Up Time. Much like the previous year’s I Will Be Me, Davies explores a mix of romanticized nostalgia and contemporary storytelling with an undeniable rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack.  

Dave Davies’ Rippin’ Up Time

Rippin’ Up Time is a guitar-driven album, and nowhere is this more apparent than on the album-opening title track. With his six-string vibrating with a grungy energy every bit the equal of, say, Rust-era Neil Young, Davies’ gruff vocals tread water above the feedback-drenched, distorted, squealing, entirely delightful instrumentation that smothers any hint of nuance in pure sonic overkill. Davies’ lyrics are poetically dense, something about reality and madness and sadness that could only be penned by somebody that’s been there, lived the life, and triumphed in the long run. It’s a monster of a performance, the song setting the stage for the rockin’ leviathan to follow.

Much like its predecessor, “Semblance of Sanity” delves into the question of sanity/insanity, understandable, perhaps, for an artist a decade down the road from a life-threatening stroke. Still coming to grips with his altered brain chemistry, Davies’ surrounds the dark Goth vibe of his lyrics with a heavy, discordant soundtrack from which sharp-edged, angular guitar licks emerge like frenzied laser beams. “King of Karaoke” is a more traditional, Kinks-styled rock tune with a discernible melody providing a foundation for Davies’ reminiscence-tinged lyrics, which reference everybody from the Kinks and the Beatles to Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, and even the Knack (!). With a slight flamenco guitar styling and exotic rhythms, the song is somewhat wistful, but Davies really imbues the performance with heart and soul, and the instrumentation is pure elegance.

In The Old Days

“Front Room” may be the beating heart of Rippin’ Up Time, a nostalgic remembrance of growing up in post-war England. With folkish lyrics blanketed by whimsical instrumentation, Davies fondly recalls time spent with his family, the early days of the Kinks, even favored music like Lonnie Donegan and Howlin’ Wolf, the memories joyously delivered with nicely crunchy guitar solos. If “Front Room” evinces a pastoral vibe, “Nosey Neighbors” is the B-side of those particular memories. With a slicing, riff-driven arrangement, “Nosey Neighbors” buries its scornful lyrics amidst a clamor of guitar and percussion, creating a cyclone of chaos that pairs perfectly with the song’s sentiments.

The dino-stomp “Mindwash” neatly sidesteps spite with clever lyrics that tackle advertising, the media, even big business and their attempt to, well, “mindwash” us with smoke and mirrors and corporate propaganda. Davies delivers the lyrics above explosive percussion and deadly guitar licks, his guttural vocals perfectly suited to the task. By contrast, “In The Old Days” is another walk down memory lane, but this is a humorous stroll with fast-paced vocals, crashing rhythms, searing fretwork, and lyrics that tell the tale, warts and all, with Davies refusing to sugar-coat the missteps that life often brings. “Through My Window” ends Rippin’ Up Time with another Kinks-styled melodic rocker, this one displaying a bit more melancholy in Davies’ vocals than anything else on the album. But the song also stamps ‘paid’ on the past, all debts erased, Davies expressing a sentiment that clearly looks forward rather than backwards.       

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Dave Davies’ Rippin’ Up Time is a solid collection that will appeal not only to the long-suffering Kinks fan desperately dreaming of a reunion that may never happen, but also to any classic rock fan looking for some primo-grade ear candy that sounds contemporary and edgy but retains the cherished rock ‘n’ roll traditions of slashing guitars, rhythmic bass lines, and heavy-handed drum play.

Nothing in the grooves here is going to replace Sleepwalker, Misfits, or Low Budget in the mind of the late-period Kinks fanatic, but Rippin’ Up Time is a snortin’, stompin’, hard-rockin’ record that entertains, Dave Davies’ earnest muse evincing more heart than nearly anything other album released this year. Davies is a bona fide talent enjoying a second (or third) chapter in a lengthy and storied career. Grade: B (Red River Entertainment, released October 27, 2014)

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