Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Review: Dave Davies's 'Hidden Treasures'

The Kinks were at a commercial low point but a creative high point in the late ‘60s. Ray Davies wrote an excess of songs during the sessions that would spawn his masterpiece. On their way to becoming The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, several of those tracks were considered for an alternate album titled Four More Well Respected Gentlemen. Ray pondered a solo album and schemed to make a full-length musical out of his Village Green concept (which he would realize less than spectacularly in the mid-‘70s). Amidst all this activity, Pye Records started pushing Dave Davies to make his own solo album to capitalize on the success of 1967’s “Death of a Clown”—a Dave and Ray-penned Kinks number released as a solo single under the younger Davies’s name. Despite his long history of begrudging his brother’s higher profile in The Kinks, Dave was not enthused about the project. He preferred placing his songs on proper Kinks albums.

The process of writing Dave’s solo record was a bit of a drudge, though the recording sessions with The Kinks as his backing band and Ray producing birthed a quantity of quality songs. Occasionally the chore-aspect was apparent in somewhat halfhearted, repetitive numbers, such as “Do You Wish to Be a Man” and “Are You Ready”. But the best of Dave’s solo material—the joyous “Lincoln County”, the desperate yet exhilarating “This Man He Weeps Tonight”, the Dylanesque “Susannah’s Still Alive”, the magnificently brooding “Mindless Child of Motherhood”—could go toe-to-toe with any of Ray’s songs of that same period. The Kinks were rarely more ferocious than they were on “Mindless Child” and the sinister rocker “Creeping Jean”.

Alas, Dave’s lack of enthusiasm and renewed commercial hopes for The Kinks following the release of Arthur: or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire in 1969 put the unnamed solo project to rest. Most of the tracks ended up on flop Dave Davies singles and Kinks B-sides. But fans have long wondered how that completed L.P. would have sounded.

As a sort of bonus companion to its recent wave of superb Kinks deluxe reissues, Universal/Sanctuary Music is finally giving us the best approximation of Dave Davies’s unfinished solo album with Hidden Treasures. Compilers Russell Smith and Andrew Sandoval based this new CD on a 1969 acetate of Dave’s sessions assembled by Warner Reprise. The thirteen tracks flow quite nicely, and though many of them were included as bonus tracks on those deluxe Kinks discs, it’s nice to hear them placed together. And there are quite a few rarities to uncover here. Though not Dave’s best songs, “Do You Wish to Be a Man” and the gospel-flavored “Are You Ready” have only previously been available as scratchy acetate copies on bootlegs. Much better is the newly unveiled “Crying”, a mournful but catchy track on which Dave gets off some rather Hendrixy rhythm licks. The B-side “There Is No Life Without Love” is presented in an unfamiliar stereo mix in which Dave’s vocal is pulled out of the mass of harmonies to the front line.

The compilers include a wealth of bonus tracks, including most (but not all) of Dave’s Pye-era Kinks compositions, mono alternative mixes of several of the core album’s tracks, a brassier mix of “Mr. Reporter”, and a scratchy early take of “Hold My Hand”. A “rare” studio version of “Good Luck Charm” is pitched as an unreleased track, although it sounds suspiciously like the one on the Picture Book box set. Aside from the latter two bonus tracks, Hidden Treasures sounds fantastic, with dense bass and crisp acoustic details. Russell Smith’s liner notes, which detail the recording and writing of these tracks extensively, are as worthy as the music they annotate. But the greatest pleasure is the wonderful music, and Hidden Treasures is a concentrated testament to the often-overlooked songwriting talents of Dave Davies.

Get Dave Davies’s Hidden Treasures at here.
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