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Various Artists: This Is Where I Belong: The Songs Of Ray Davies & The Kinks

Album: This Is Where I Belong: The Songs Of Ray Davies & The Kinks
Label: Praxis/Rykodisc

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A decade ago, the Neil Young covers album The Bridge and the Victoria Williams benefit compilation Sweet Relief made tribute records an artistic and financial success. But in the intervening years, just about every local music scene in the country has thrown together ill-conceived, cash-in salutes to everyone from ABBA to ZZ Top, and the whole concept has been degraded. Enter This Is Where I Belong: The Songs Of Ray Davies & The Kinks, which restores some dignity to the idea of paying tribute. Although the album's lineup is Nashville-heavy—with Steve Forbert, Josh Rouse, Lambchop, Bill Lloyd, Tommy Womack, and Tim O'Brien all contributing—this is far from a slapdash scene sampler. The acts on This Is Where I Belong apply their own personalities to the arrangements, rather than merely trying to replicate Davies in a different tempo or key. Bebel Gilberto's "No Return" re-interprets the original's tropical tone as full-bore Brasilia, just as O'Brien transforms "Muswell Hillbilly" into a genuine bluegrass raver. Matthew Sweet gives "Big Sky" a shot of power-pop jangle, Forbert belts out "Starstruck" with his winningly nasal choogle, and Lambchop stretches the Davies nugget "Art Lover" into a mesmerizing five minutes of twang and drone. Though the song selection is far from obscure, the musicians have largely avoided the riff-o-riffic early Kinks hits in favor of Davies' subtler and more tuneful mid-period work. If nothing else, This Is Where I Belong is snappy; it's over and done in 50 minutes, concluding with a duet between Blur's Damon Albarn and Davies himself on "Waterloo Sunset." This is a collection of singular interpretations, and because of Davies' uniformly pungent lyrics and compositional grace, they hang together as an actual album, with flow and significance.