The Songs of Ray Davies & The Kinks Various Artists
This Is Where I Belong: The Songs of Ray Davies & The Kinks
(Rykodisc)


It's a greatest hits album from The Kinks only it's not The Kinks singing.

This Is Where I Belong: The Songs of Ray Davies & The Kinks demonstrates why The Kinks lasted through decades of pop music trends (I was amazed at how many of these songs I instantly remembered). It features 16 tracks, including some of the band's best known songs, performed by the likes of Matthew Sweet, Fastball, Cracker and Fountains of Wayne. Kinks leader Ray Davies also offers some amusing liner notes on the selections. It's missing some of its biggest smashes "You Really Got Me," "All Day and All of the Night," "Tired of Waiting for You," "Sunny Day," and "Lola," (not to mention its '80s comeback smash "Come Dancing"). But the Kinks' catalog is so rich with material, you won't even miss those. This album is more about remembering some of its "mid-level" hits and classic album sides, rather than the smashes.

Fountains of Wayne leads off the disc with a carbon copy cover of one of The Kinks' more recent hits (which is now of legal drinking age!), 1981's "Better Things," and then folk legends Steve Forbert and Jonathan Richman turn in loyal versions of "Starstruck" and "Stop Your Sobbing," respectively.

Cracker handles the rockin' "Victoria," and Queens of the Stone Age crank up the energy for a solid glam rock take on "Who'll Be the Next in Line." Matthew Sweet turns in a harmony-rich hippie cover of "Big Sky" and progressive rockers Lambchop put a quieter, eerie spin on "Art Lover" than the original.

Bill Lloyd and Tommy Womack manage to perfectly re-create the Kinks' harmonies on the power-pop bass extravaganza "Picture Book," and Fastball captures the taut energy of the '60s in a tight cover of "'Till the End of the Day." It all ends with a 1995 recording of Kinks' leader Ray Davies joining Damon Albarn for a live run-through of Davies' most poignant song, "Waterloo Sunset."

 

Darren Hayes - Spin Darren Hayes
Spin
(Columbia)
½


Savage Garden singer Darren Hayes doesn't stray far from the formula set by his last band on his first solo album. Spin is full of the same sort of icy synthesizer arrangements backing his breathy, soulful vocals that propelled "Truly Madly Deeply" to the top of the charts in 1999.

The disc's most inventive two tracks mix a swirl of syncopated orchestral strings with tight beats. One of those, "Strange Relationship," the disc's opener, pits a jagged guitar line against its strings. Later, the spooky-cool "Creepin' Up On You" pulls off a sharp percussive mix of drums and strings. But most of the album sounds instantly familiar from Hayes' past work. For example the disc's single, the falsetto-rich drama of the smooth late night "turn the lights down low" love ballad "Insatiable" and "I Miss You," which takes its gentle strumming and light crooning clues from "Truly Madly Deeply."

While Savage Garden was often compared to Wham! - two guys writing soulful pop songs with synthesizers - Hayes' solo debut will probably not hit with the force of George Michael's debut Faith. He hasn't strayed far enough from familiar territory, as Michael did when he "came out." Spin is a solid, if not innovative listen for fans of cool, crisp synth-pop.

 

Liz Mandville Greeson - Back in Love Again Liz Mandville Greeson
Back in Love Again
(Earwig)
½


If Hayes' crooning comes across as a little too processed and mechanical for your ear, Chicago's Liz Mandville Greeson offers her third disc of organic rhythm and blues originals on the local blues label Earwig.

Back in Love Again offers a baker's dozen of new songs that run the gamut from Robert Cray-style slick "modern blues" ("Back in Love Again"), to standard harmonica and guitar strolls ("Johnny and Me"), to slow, soulful crooning blues with gospel background singers ("Face the Music"), to classic blues sexual innuendoes ("Lip Service" and "The Night Thing"). Greeson says this album is an "autobiography of romance," and both its lyrics and melodies demonstrate the highs and lows of that emotion, as well as the singer's versatility in style.

On "Juicehead Man" she screeches with Janis Joplin angst over a standard blues harmonica and bass riff, complaining that her "baby love the bottle/just a little more than he love me." That's probably the hardest hitting blues number here; the album opens with "Soul Tender," a big band R&B organ-backed, horn-drenched ballad that features her giving up some of her smoothest croons as she sings about her baby who's "easy to love and hold and kiss." And "The Gift" is a quiet contemplation of the way love can change a life - for both good and bad.

Greeson offers a '50s' style rolling R&B riff and barrelhouse piano in "All My Love" that occasionally treads the same lines as The Beatles' classic "Oh Darling." And "For Real" has the kind of broad rockin' blues Americana guitar-drums-piano instrumentation of bands like Little Feat as she sings about something most women can identify with ("I want a lover who's grown/knows what he's got and don't have to roam/he gets his lovin' right here at home/a real man who has grown.")

It all wraps up with an a capella choir-backed number, "Shine Clear With Joy."

Back in Love Again offers more late-night, kick-back ballads than past Greeson offerings. But for lovers of R&B, swing and the blues, this is a solid, well-produced travelogue of new R&B with a classic flavor.

Catch Greeson live at B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted Street in Chicago June 16.