Album Review: Various Artists – Jem Records Celebrates Ray Davies

The reactivated Jem Records has established itself as a welcoming home for a particular brand of melodic powerpop. In addition to releasing a steady stream of albums by its featured artists, the label has organized a series of compilations under the banner of Jem Records Celebrates. On the heels of three releases focusing on the music and artistry of John Lennon, Brian Wilson and Pete Townshend, the latest entry serves up a collection of Jem artists covering the music of Kinks founder/leader Ray Davies.

The set – available on both CD and “cherry cola” colored vinyl – features 13 song by a variety of acts. The Midnight Callers tackle late-period Kinks on “Come Dancing,” effective rocking up the tune; in some ways their arrangement is closer to the classic Kinks aesthetic than the original was.

Nick Piunti & the Complicated Men don’t do anything new with “Til the End of the Day,” but an argument could be made that the song doesn’t need reinvention. Their version rocks as it should, and the song – an underrated classic – is always worth revisiting.

The Anderson Council digs deep and comes up with “Do You Remember Walter,” originally on 1968’s The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society. Oddly, the song’s intro suggests ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky,” but the group doesn’t follow that path. Peter Horvath’s faux British accent is too affected by half, but the arrangement – which recalls The Move – more than redeems things.

“Lola” is such an obvious choice for a Ray Davies collection: somebody had to do it. The Weeklings take it on here, and deliver a nearly note-for-note cover. That approach does render the effort pointless, but on its own merits, there’s nothing wrong with this version.

In its original version, The Kinks’ “See My Friends” was a subtly droning pop tune, an effective foray into Eastern flavors that steered clear of gimmickry. The Grip Weeds up the rock quotient, give the song the kind of arrangement The who might have applied. Subtle melodic cues from The Beatles “Within You and Without You” are wonderfully inspired, and fit nicely into the song. The arrangement’s middle eight is lovely, too; it’s followed by a searing, soaring lead guitar break. An undisputed highlight.

Early-period Kinks are addressed by Johnathan Pushkar’s reading of “I Gotta Move.” The arrangement’s drums feel too stiff and programmed, but this track may nonetheless be the best I’ve yet heard from this artist.

It would have been malpractice had Jem allowed any act other than the Grip Weeds to take on “Where Have All the Good Times Gone.” Their reading is predictably superb; the group deftly straddles the gap between faithful cover and inventive interpretation.

Another Village Green cut, “Picture Book” isn’t among the better-known Kinks tracks (it was the b-side of “Starstruck,” nearly as little-known.) The Airport 77s turn in a streamlined yet spirited cover of the tune. The tight vocal harmonies are a treat, and serve to highlight the tune’s playful lyrics.

The Cynz cover “I Need You.” Their arrangement doesn’t rock nearly as hard as the 1965 original, though the lead guitar break goes some distance toward remedying that. The skillful group vocal harmonies are the best thing about this version.

Yet another Village Green tune, that album’s title track is celebrated by The Gold Needles. Their arrangement is excellent: it doesn’t recast the song, but instead doubles down effectively on its Carnaby Street/ swinging London feel.

“David Watts” was covered long ago in memorable fashion by The Jam; Johnathan Pushkar’s cover can’t help but suffer in comparison to both that and the Kinks’ original. But it’s not bad in any way.

Face to Face’s “This is Where I Belong” is another deep Kinks cut. The Anderson Council turn in a resounding cover of the song, in the process sounding a bit like Baby Lemonade. And that’s never a bad thing. It all adds up to one of the best tracks on this collection.

Jem Records Celebrates Ray Davies wraps up in understate fashion with a lilting cover of Davies’ nostalgic “Days.” The gentle pop arrangement shows Lisa Mychols & Super 8 making the song their own.

Taken as a whole, Jem Celebrates Ray Davies is easily the best-to-date entry in the series. And its availability on vinyl is an extra-special treat. Pushkar’s “I Gotta Move” is out now, and the album’s street date is August 11.