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Robyn rocks out in new album – Davies relays his ‘Americana’ experience

This cover image released by Yep Roc Records shows a self-titled album by Robyn Hitchcock. (AP)
Robyn Hitchcock, “Robyn Hitchcock” (Yep Roc Records)

Robyn Hitchcock rocks out on his new, self-titled album, restoring some electric zing to his guitar playing without any loss of melody.

Hitchcock’s prolific career since The Soft Boys has often alternated between acoustic albums and electric ones but it’s been a while since he plugged-in this convincingly.

He’s lived in Nashville for a few years and there are distinctively Music City USA touches on some tunes — the tongue-in-cheek Johnny Cash tribute “I Pray When I’m Drunk” or the pedal steel guitar on “1970 in Aspic.” Most of the rest, however, have that indelible stamp of Englishness Hitchcock expresses in such an unforced, if decidedly eccentric, way.

Hitchcock uses some Richard Thompson-like guitar tremors on “Virginia Woolf” for a visually raw take on her and Sylvia Plath’s similarly self-inflicted demises. He empathizes without condoning — “Sometimes it hurts where you don’t wanna hurt.”

The Kinks once did the soundtrack for “Percy,” a film based on a book by Hitchcock’s father, Raymond. So it completes the circle that there are echoes of former Kinks frontman Ray Davies on “Raymond and The Wires,” Hitchcock’s heartfelt homage to his dad by way of a shared 1964 trolleybus ride.

“Autumn Sunglasses” has a psychedelic feel, its swirling backing vocals, strings and backward guitar all at the service of loopy lyrics and a Lennonesque melody.

Gillian Welch, Grant-Lee Phillips, Emma Swift and Wilco’s Pat Sansone contribute vocals and Brendan Benson’s crisp production boosts the guitar-centricity.

As for Hitchcock himself, well, the album’s dynamic opener is “I Want To Tell You About What I Want.” Auspiciously, he makes no concessions on the other nine songs, either.

Ray Davies, “Americana” (Legacy Recordings)

Think of “Americana,” the first release of new material from former Kinks frontman Ray Davies in nine years, as a musical memoir of sorts. It’s a welcome return for one of rock’s signature voices and it finds Davies in a reflective and introspective mood.

Cowboys. Coca Cola. Highways. New York. Silent movies. The Kinks.

They all get referenced over 15 tracks, as Davies sings about his life working and living in America over the past 50 years. Davies finds the perfect backing band in The Jayhawks to tell his stories both in song and spoken readings from his 2013 memoir.


But it’s more than just a nostalgic travelogue.

Davies, who penned some of rock’s most well-known songs including “Lola” and “You Really Got Me,” is also one of the best — and perhaps most underrated — storytellers. His signature sharp wit and razor-sharp insight are in full force on “Americana.”

On the standout track “Poetry,” Davies beautifully questions what has become of a country dominated by fast food restaurants, shopping malls and a bland sameness.

“Where is the poetry, what is the rhyme?” Davies sings, wistfully. “What is the meaning? Give us a sign.”

There’s no better place to start looking for those answers than “Americana.”

 Peter Mattei has been portraying the title character in “Eugene Onegin” for more than a decade, but he still finds him “one of my trickiest parts to establish.”

“Something with him is like an old portrait,” the Swedish baritone said in an interview at the Metropolitan Opera, where he is currently performing the role. “You look at it and you wonder, ‘Who is this guy?’ And so much of it is about the way he looks, the way he presents himself. He doesn’t give much away.”

Tchaikovsky’s opera, adapted from a novel in verse by Alexander Pushkin, tells of a bored and cynical gentleman who rejects the advances of the love-struck Tatyana, only to realize years later that he has missed his one chance for happiness.

Mattei said Onegin’s hard-to-pin-down character is part of what makes him interesting to play in different versions. The Met’s production, created by Deborah Warner, will be broadcast live in HD to movie theaters worldwide on Saturday.

“When I see a movie, I sometimes see an actor on the screen and I say, ‘That could be Onegin,’” Mattei said. “Or someone like maybe Bob Dylan could be a good Onegin. Because after so many years of public life, he is mysteriously unknown somehow. And when he comes into a room, I think he would create some kind of unsureness in people he meets.”

When Tatyana impulsively sends Onegin a love letter, he returns it and lectures her on the need to be more discreet. The encounter leaves Tatyana shattered, but Mattei doesn’t think Onegin is being deliberately cruel.

“He’s a bit annoyed why she put him in this situation,” he said. “But then the letter comes and he has this responsibility. He tries to be kind to her and give her good advice. But that’s not always easy. If you have children … you might realize many years later that it might have been better not to give the good advice. You don’t know the fruit.”

In the opera’s dramatic final scene, the tables are turned when Onegin throws off his aloof demeanor and begs Tatyana to run off with him. But, now married, she remains faithful to her husband. “You have to sing it like a boy,” Mattei said. “He is a boy again. He is feeling those love feelings. It’s passionate and full of torment also.”

This is the third time Mattei has appeared at the Met opposite Russian diva Anna Netrebko, who is portraying the role of Tatyana. They were first onstage together in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” in 2003, with Mattei singing the title role of the serial seducer and Netrebko as his latest prey, the peasant girl Zerlina. The next year they returned in Puccini’s “La Boheme” in the supporting roles of the painter Marcello and his flirtatious girlfriend, Musetta.

Both appeared in this production of “Onegin” when it was new in 2013, but they were in separate casts. The current revival was designed to feature Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky in the title role, but he had to withdraw because he is battling a brain tumor.

The HD broadcast of “Eugene Onegin,” conducted by Robin Ticciati and also starring tenor Alexey Dolgov as Lenski and bass Stefan Kocan as Prince Gremin, will be shown starting at 12:55 pm Eastern on Saturday. A list of theaters can be found at the Met’s website: www.metopera.org/hd .

In the US, it will be repeated on Wednesday, April 26, at 6:30 pm local time. (AP)

By Pablo Gorondi

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