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Ray Davies 

Other People's Lives (V2)

After his 30 years and 24 albums with the Kinks, and following a 13-year break, Ray Davies' first solo LP unveils his best work since 1971's Muswell Hillbillies. The 61-year-old's return to form was foreshadowed in the bravura tour dates in support of his book, X-Ray, several years ago. Besides stripping out the showman sediment and bombast he'd added over two decades, he introduced the throwback song "To the Bone" and embraced classic songs from two of his best albums, 1968's Village Green Preservation Society and 1969's Arthur.

Several songs here recall such timeless English pop, even beyond the "woooooooo" of "Waterloo Sunset" on "After the Fall" or the hint of Village Green's "Picture Book" during the coda of "Thanksgiving Day." Davies remains a master of repertoire, including the superb rock of "Things Are Gonna Change," the relaxed music-hall moves of "Next Door Neighbor," and the vaudeville slapstick of the sarcastic social spoof "Stand-Up Comic." Each song is a short story, preoccupied with change and travel -- understandable, in light of Davies' troubadour existence. Though he suffered a gunshot wound to his leg two years ago, after moving to New Orleans, neither time nor bullets have overcome Davies' combination of wit, observation, and melodic ease -- gifts that have proved as resilient as N'Awlins itself.

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