RECORDINGS Quick Spins

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

WORKING MAN'S CAFE

Ray Davies

After more than 40 years of conjuring up some of the most memorable characters in rock, from cross-dressing Lola to the sister who mourns her razed local dance hall in "Come Dancing," ex-Kink Ray Davies finally has something to write about. For the first time on record, he deals with his January 2004 pursuit of a New Orleans purse snatcher, which resulted in a bullet in the leg and a stay in the intensive-care unit. Also for the first time on record, he deals with Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans after he moved away.

With all this reality seeping into his work, the 63-year-old singer-songwriter fills his electric-guitar-heavy fourth solo album with pathos and warmth rather than the coy sarcasm that defines Kinks masterpieces like "The Village Green Preservation Society" and "Father Christmas." That's not to say he's gone happy. "No One Listen," inspired by the response to Katrina, carries this conclusion: "Call the D.A., call the National Guard, call the President/Call anyone in the land of the free/'Cause they ain't gonna listen to me."

The album feels deeper, less impish than usual, for Davies, particularly on "Morphine Song," the only track about his 2004 shooting. Rather than contemplating purses and bullets, the songwriter focuses on the aftermath, warmly recalling a nurse named Starr, a coughing alcoholic named Brenda, the comfort of strangers and a steady heartbeat. In "You're Asking Me," he wonders if wisdom is really enough in the end. Who knows? But it's nice to hear him eloquently working through the question instead of making like contemporaries Rod Stewart and Eric Clapton, who merely plow through old songs.

-- Steve Knopper

DOWNLOAD THESE:"You're Asking Me," "Morphine Song"

THE NEW CRYSTAL SILENCE

Chick Corea and Gary Burton

Guitarist Pat Metheny, who has always treasured "Crystal Silence," pianist Chick Corea and vibraphonist Gary Burton's 1972 debut duo album, contributes liner notes to "The New Crystal Silence," the pair's latest recording. Offering his take on why the duo's collaborations are so special, Metheny writes, "Certainly one of the most exciting aspects of the Corea/Burton story is the meeting of Chick the composer and Gary the improviser."

"The New Crystal Silence" underscores his point. A double-disc set divided between symphonic and duet settings, the album features 10 Corea compositions, plus a few standards. The tunes inspire a series of remarkably fluid performances that are often distinguished by Burton's signature, four-mallet improvisations.

Disc 1, which finds the duo performing in concert with the Sydney Symphony, is entirely devoted to Corea compositions, including "Crystal Silence" and "Duende." Thanks to arranger Tim Garland's ingenuity, the orchestral designs produce drama and sweep without overshadowing the duo's chemistry. Garland's artful touch is particularly evident on "Love Castle," during which Burton sounds as nimble and inventive as ever. Also recorded in concert, the duets on Disc 2 stretch beyond Corea's catalogue to include Bill Evans's "Waltz for Debby," delightfully laced with countermelodies, and the Gershwins' "I Love You Porgy," soulfully reharmonized. As for the performances inspired by Corea's melodies, none is more engaging than the duo's whimsically animated take on "Senor Mouse."

-- Mike Joyce

DOWNLOAD THESE: "Love Castle," "Senor Mouse"

Corea and Burton perform at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on March 9.

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