1981 – Arista
The self-titled debut record from the kings of the rockabilly revival scene Stray Cats is a hoppin’, boppin’, hard-rockin’ release full of twanging guitar riffs, percussive slap bass, and bare-bones backbeat drum lines. Really, it’s just everything you’re looking for in rockabilly coming out of the eighties: it sticks to the roots with immaculate care, but it doesn’t come across as mere reproduction. Tracks like Ubangi Stomp highlight that this trio from Long Island really know what they’re doing and aren’t just paying mindless homage to the real gone greats of the genre.
In terms of real-gone, however, Stray Cats doesn’t quite live up the expectations one might have. I mean, Setzer’s guitar playing is formidable and Rocker’s slap bass is dangerously powerful, but the root energy of this release is somewhat on the lower side. Listening to tracks like Rock This Town and the band’s cover version of Danny Wolfe’s Double Talking Baby I just couldn’t really bring myself to believe that these guys really wanted or even knew how to rock an entire town. I suppose this might be a symptom of the album’s production style which mimics Sun Studio’s reverb and closeness well, but misses out on the characteristic rawness, or it might even just be a case of first record jitters, but either way the overall energy of this record didn’t really hit the high notes. Later releases certainly saw the band really going crazy and letting their craft carry them to the heights of rock and roll madness, but sadly the same can’t be said of Stray Cats.
This aside, the record is an exceptionally strong debut, especially in a time when the raw power and fun of rockabilly music seemed to have been forgotten. I mean, can’t go passed Stray Cat Strut for sneering greaser presence and Rumble In Brighton really gets the gears turning and the motor humming. Not to mention their more punk tinged works like Ubangi Stomp and Storm The Embasssy, the later being a great moment of unexpected politcal and global awareness coming from a band who seemed much more interested in their hair than what was going on around them.
Every track pounds and throbs with music that just screams fun, and there comes many times in every person’s life when that is exactly what they are looking for. You don’t have to think with Stray Cats you just have to throw it on the turntable and remember how great it feels to just tap your toes. For this kind of reaction you just can’t fault the album, it’s just too damned much fun to find any kind of fault there, and the band really do know their craft inside and out.
So, in conclusion I have to say that Stray Cats is a very good album indeed. It’s out and out rockabilly, which is always nice to hear, and it’s done with all the sensibilites that come with being incredibly accomplished musicians. I suppose you might not really like it if you don’t care for rockabilly, but if that’s the case I’d argue that you’re not really a fan of much, and least of having fun.
- Stop Nine On The Rockabilly Roadtrip (ljfacesthemusic.wordpress.com)