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This Is Where I Belong: the Songs of Ray Davies and The Kinks – various artists

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Let's face it, the majority of tribute albums suck. Period.

Something goes wrong along the way. Either the record company shoves its own artists on to the track listing or the artists are too respectful of the content and do little more than regurgitate the original tune or the songwriter/artist has such a distinctive manner that few can overcome the aura of the past. Still, I must admit that the music addict in me continues to be intrigued by such releases just for the opportunity of the possible gems contained inside. (See the pros and cons of "Good Rockin' Tonight: the Legacy of Sun Records".) All this vitriol towards tribute albums has changed to showers of joy upon listening to the great, yes great, This Is Where I Belong: The Songs of Ray Davies & The Kinks.

What makes this a wondrous rarity in the collection of numerous tributes
gone wrong?

First off, there are the compositions of Ray Davies, whose work is filled with wry observations, touching eloquence, melancholy, sentimentality and wit. And his lyrics were given a brighter shine due to wistful and (perfectly) poppy melodies and sharp musical accompaniment. Ultimately, the Kinks' recordings made the material stand out, but they weren't so distinctive in presentation that the songs couldn't live and breathe without Dave Davies on guitar or Mick Avory on drums. Thus, they work when performed by the band and they work when performed by someone else. There's a certain elasticity to the simple, but not simpleton, arrangements.

And the artists who tackle Ray Davies' work on This Is Where I Belong
seem to embrace the inherent possibilities. The mix of indie and major label
acts coupled with the variety of styles offers a wealth of revelations (i.e
Lambchop's creepy then sad take on "Art Lover"). While artists make a
connection with the tunes, they also hold on to their own musical
The hopeful outlook on Fountain of Wayne's take on "Better Things" contained
added depth when I heard it for the first time on Late Night with
Conan O'Brien a little over a week after September 11th. On a lighter
note, Tim
O'Brien's version of "Muswell Hillbilly" playfully moves the song from its
English location to a Nashville recording studio.

Finally, as Davies writes in the candid liner notes, the artists involved are new to his ears, and possibly to yours as well. Many of their choices are more obscure numbers from The Kinks' catalogue rather than a concentration on the hits. What good would it do the listener to be treated to a version of "Lola"? It's rare for an act to overcome the original and add something new. Van Halen did it with "You Really Got Me" and Devo did the same with "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," while Lenny Kravitz's by-the-numbers funk version of "American Woman" still sends shudders of agony through my body. A very special mention should go out to executive producer Jim Pitt, who helped put this together. His choices and the sequencing of This Is Where I Belong brings about smooth transitions from one song to the next. Whether the album came out exactly as he planned or whether the contributors were who he always wanted, the final result turned out just perfectly.

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