April 2008

Ray Davies - Working Man’s Café
New West Records NW6136
Format: CD
Released: 2007

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

Ray Davies has been around long enough to be taken for granted. With his songwriting credentials, he could easily coast. After his return to form in 2006 with Other People’s Lives, he can’t be taken for granted, and now with Working Man’s Café he shows that he’s not ready, even after more than 40 years in the music business, to coast. Working Man’s Café has a bit more bite than its predecessor -- the guitars snarl -- but Davies retains his subtle storytelling skills and his ear for melody. He co-produced this disc with Ray Kennedy, best known for his work with Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams.

Sonically, the disc has more immediacy and punch than Other Peoples’ Lives, but Kennedy hasn’t imposed his will on Davies. The singer may have recorded Working Man’s Café in Tennessee, but Kennedy and the Nashville players on the disc must have listened to their share of Kinks records. And while Davies may be observing things from his window in the UK, what he sees is universal. He’s always been adept at capturing society in transition, and here he casts his eye on the effects of globalization ("Vietnam Cowboys") and spreading retail chains that push out local pubs (the title track). He’s never been a doctrinaire and, as he did in Village Green Preservation Society, he sees some benefits from progress, even as he laments what is lost.

Davies sings as much about the personal as he does the topical in Working Man’s Café, and his sharp eye and good ear for melody are intact. Ray Davies hasn’t created his late masterpiece yet, but I feel certain he will.