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Kevin Ayers - The Best Of Kevin Ayers CD (album) cover


Kevin Ayers


Canterbury Scene

3.13 | 7 ratings

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3 stars At best a totally endearing songwriter unafraid to challenge his listeners, and at worst downright lazy, Kevin Ayers is perhaps the ideal candidate for a compilation album. This well chosen collection has 19 songs culled from Ayers' golden period of 1970-1978, and there's precious little to argue about. Each one of his albums ... Joy Of A Toy, Shooting At The Moon, Whatevershebringswesing, Bananamour, Confessions Of Dr. Dream, Sweet Deceiver and Rainbow Takeaway ... is represented to some degree with the odd exception of 1976's Yes We Have No Mananas.

Thankfully many of Ayers' best and most daring songs are here, which allows us to see what an engaging and eclectic creative force he is, although it must be emphasised that only a minority of his material falls strictly within the confines of the "progressive rock" label. Most notable among these are the symphonic, brass heavy There Is Loving/Among Us/There Is Loving and Rheindhart & Gerladine/Colores Para Dolores is a gorgeous Canterbury style piece, although in its jarring sound-effects almost spoil the piece, turning it from a melodic one into a distant relative of The Beatles' Revolution #9, before a jazzy almost VDGG-like outro saves it.

Irreversible Neural Damage is an excerpt from Confessions Of Dr. Dream, which saw Ayers at his most ground-breaking and it is an avant garde sonic experiment, with a constant acoustic guitar riff, driving a mass of layers of sound that's dominated by violin and a haunting distorted contribution from model turned chaunteuse Nico. Another highlight of Ayers' most daring side is the eerie, cinematic Song From The Bottom Of A Well which has a spoken-word performance in which Ayers sounds somewhat like Leonard Cohen, although this one too is gradually consumed by a barrage of jarring sound effects.

For all the creative exploration of those songs, it's hard to dispute that Ayers is probably at his best when he's creating his own whimsical world out of simpler melodies. Two real highlights are Girl On A Swing, an evocative dreamy piece that calls to mind Barrett-era Floyd and the absolutely superb narrative piece The Lady Rachel. With flute, swirling organ, brass and a haunting earnest performance, this particular song has long been my favourite Ayers composition.

Elsewhere there is ample evidence of a strong strain of (gasp) accessibility that runs through the man's music. Singing A Song In The Morning and Carribean Moon should have been a huge summer hit, especially since they are more Mungo Jerry than Canterbury prog. Butterfly Dance moves along from engaging ditty mode into being a pulsating offbeat rocker. Sweet Deceiver is a catchy ELO like composition, with great violin playing. Soon Soon Soon is a snide attack, balanced out by some ludicrous female backing vocals and some twisty compostional tricks.

Then there's Gemini Child which may start off with a heavy rock riff, but soon becomes a classic tune (even it's most Caravan than Soft Machine!). And the irresistible jocular rocker Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes, which is a nod to Lou Reed's compositional style, with a bit of avant-garde piano solo thrown in to mix things up. There's also a fair bit of humour that laces cuts like The Clarietta Rag, Hat Song and Clarence In Wonderland.

Throughout his solo career, Ayers worked with an incredible amount of talent that included former Soft Machine buddies Robert Wyatt and Mike Ratledge, members of Caravan, Lol Coxhill, Mike Oldfield, David Bedford, Ollie Halsall, and even Elton John. And most of them make an appearance on this solid career tribute.

Of course some songs like May I, Pisser Dans Un Violin and Margaret have been left out, but I do think that this compilation is very representative of Ayers work during this period. I just wish that the songs had been presented in chronological order because, while the songwriting style doesn't change, the sound of Ayers' backing musicians does. Still I actually think that this is the best way to enjoy Ayers' charms, although I must say that newcomers expecting instrumental symphonic progressive rock ought to look elsewhere. ... 54% on the MPV scale

Trotsky | 3/5 |


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