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Ray Davies

The Kinks Choral Collection

Decca Records

Buy if you like: The Kinks, Blur

Improbable as it might initially seem, Ray Davies' concept of taking 15 Kinks classics and performing them with the Crouch End Festival Chorus is a complete knockout. Davies' extremely English songs always felt like they were composed for the stage or big screen, with a sense of drama and a keen eye for detail befitting a short-story writer. Balancing sentimentality with a wry sense of humor, songs like "Victoria," "Celluloid Heroes," "Working Man's Café" and "Days" could each be a play. To all these songs the large chorus brings an emotional majesty that sounds like it's the way Davies first envisioned them. His voice is still full of the fragile vulnerability that marked such early hits as "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night" — and even those fairly rudimentary rock classics soar toward the heavens once the choir kicks in. — Bill Bentley

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Dave Rawlings Machine

A Friend of a Friend

Acony Records

Buy if you like: Gillian Welch, Conor Oberst

Leave it to the way-talented Dave Rawlings to slip in one of the best albums of the year near the end. What at first feels like an informal picking session becomes much more after just a few listenings. The man who has made his name working with Gillian Welch is way too sharp to let this debut solo album be anything but righteous. He's also gathered several of the Old Crow Medicine Show members, the Heartbreakers' Benmont Tench on keyboards and drummer Karl Himmel from Neil Young's recent band on the last track. Rawlings had a hand writing most of the songs, but also adds the Jesse Fuller classic, "Monkey and the Engineer" and an intriguing blend of Conor Oberst and Young standards. Culminating in the inspirational "Bells of Harlem," the album at times approaches gospel music, with a delicate edge and a sonic glow you won't soon forget. — Bill Bentley

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Various Artists

The Village

429 Records

Buy if you like: Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Shelby Lynne

To find the spiritual center of New York City, head for Washington Square in Greenwich Village, where anything can happen and no one will be surprised. To celebrate that storied urban neighborhood, 13 artists have raided the songbook of '60s icons like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and others who once called the Village clubs home. Rickie Lee Jones lights the fire with an unnerving "Subterranean Homesick Blues," but Shelby Lynne steals the scene with "Don't Think Twice It's Alright," sounding like it was written just for her. The Duhks, Lucinda Williams and Rocco DeLuca turn in solid contributions. The overall tone is slightly subdued, and it wouldn't hurt for the song selection to go a little farther afield next time. Like most such projects, The Village contains bulls-eyes and misses, but the basic idea is brilliant. — Bill Bentley

  • Ray Davies, Dave Rawlings Machine, The Village artists

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