David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 123: Ray Davies (A Place In Your Heart)

August 27, 2020

Funny how the term "going solo" is so misleading. Very rarely does a musician leave a band and go truly solo. Diana Ross left The Supremes to go solo and still ended up using the same session band, The Funk Brothers, on her first "solo" album that The Supremes had used on the last Diana Ross & The Supremes' album. Backing vocals at times on the two albums were provided by The Andantes. The only way she truly went solo was to reduce the ampersand and the superlative from the album cover.

Similarly, Sting defunded the Police and started his version of community support.  The Dream Of The Blue Turtles included 22 support artists; Synchronicty, the final Police album, had three musicians and one additional vocalist. If Sting meant "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free" to be a message to his former bandmates, they must have felt like the depressed husband whose wife leaves him because she feels too restrained, and then marries a Mormon man.

Ray Davies of The Kinks never especially left to go solo from The Kinks. The Kinks just stopped making records and he put out intermittent CD's. Interestingly, one of the last Kinks' albums to register on anyone's radar was Word of Mouth, whose final song was "Going Solo," a rather lovely tune about a parent whose child has left. I never felt the "Going Solo" label worked there, and always suspected Davies was suppressing some deeper feelings about getting away from his brother and the band.

Basically, Davies has released 5 solo albums between The Kinks disbanding in the mid 1990's until now, sometimes with just a few unknowns, other times with large supporting casts. However, his 2017 release, Americana, brings new meaning to "going solo," because he recruits an entire whole band, quite successful themselves, to not only support him but also to be, frankly, in a couple of songs, as featured. That band is The Jayhawks, a slice of Americana appropriate to a CD called Americana featuring songs about Davies' obsessions with Americana.

The place where Americana is least solo is on "A Place In Your Heart," a tour de force featuring multiple voices doing rounds, descants, or simply extreme counterpoint. What the hell do I know to call it?

All I do know is that we go from campfire singing:

"Look at that big sky/

look at that moon glow/

lighting up the Rockies/

on the way to Idaho/

take out your fiddle/

put your hand on the bow/

rustle up a pretty tune/

put a rhythm in your toe-ow."

I think we can blame the whiskey being passed around the fire for that last line.

The singing is primarily from The Jayhawks two singers, Gary Louris, who sings lead on most of his band's material, and Tim O'Reagan, who sings lead occasionally but contributes tone-perfect harmony through most Jayhawks' songs.

Then we lose the campfire cavern for awhile to hear Davis trying to reach his love on the telephone: "Hello, is anybody there, hello?" said in his quintessential British accent, noticeably marked by 70 some years on the planet.

Then the real surprise, the real guess-who's-gone-solo-moment, his love's parts are sung by Jayhawk Karen Grotberg, never once featured as a lead vocalist, and not easily heard as a background vocalist for any Jayhawk song. She actually sings the CD's previous song, "Message From The Road," a foreshadowing of her spotlight moment in "A Place In Your Heart." And her voice is perfect for the mixed emotions of a woman probably sitting by her window, staring off at the night sky, wondering how she can make a relationship work with a musician:

"I can't explain/

am I letting my emotions get the better of me/

you're always on my mind/

but I can't tell you that I willingly follow you."

The bulk of the song is turned over to her thoughts, our cowboy caravan providing the descant about life on the road:

Main vocal: I can't admit it to you.

Descant vocals: West to East under the stars.

Main: Cause then I would have to admit it to me.

Descant: It's a thousand miles to the nearest bar.

Main: And I wouldn't want to bother you.

Descant: West to East til we reach Omaha.

Main: Cause then I would have to admit how much

Descant: West to East.

Main: It's bothering me.

Descant: In the land of the free.

Grotberg's moment in the sun ends with Davies responding from afar, relatively similar emotions, but eventually lost to the cowboy chorus:

"Pass that whiskey/

Stoke up the stove/

Pluck that string/

Wiggle that bow/

Mid-west snow/

Thunder and rain/

Get to the East Coast/

Turn around, head west again."

It's a constant touring refrain, the presence of the woman lost in the middle waiting for her man to return.  The emotion is palpable.

At least for Grotberg, she is not lost in the middle. When The Jayhawks released their next CD, Back Roads And Abandoned Motels, she is afforded lead vocals on two tracks, "Come Cryin' To Me" and "El Dorado." Guess it took an old fart from England, who by the way was never too keen on letting his brother stand out more in The Kinks, to make Gary Louris realize he had an unknown voice sitting behind his keyboards.

"A Place In Your Heart." Ray Davies. Americana. Legacy. 2017. Link here.

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