Rockabilly Heaven

By Paul Rigg

A few weeks ago Little Steven released the joyful album Summer of Sorcery and now Stray Cats return with 40 (24 May; Surfdog Records); a huge celebration of rockabilly. With new records by Black Keys, Tool and even the Pixies rumoured to be on the way, we may be heading for a much anticipated revival of rock and guitar music in the not too distant future…     

Stray Cats may be celebrating their 40th anniversary but in truth this is the first time Brian Setzer (guitar/ lead vocals), Lee Rocker (bass/vocals), and Slim Jim Phantom (drums/vocals) have released new material in 26 years. But we are not going to bicker about that detail for a moment at Guitars Exchange, because this album is one worth waiting for, marked as it is by a marvellous blend of modern and vintage ‘old school’ style. If you are looking for fun, variety and class, you’ve got it here in spades.

“What inspired me to start write songs [again] was an old Fender reverb unit … I started writing a kind of surf- Spaghetti Western and that kind of started the ball rolling. Once we played … I knew that I wanted to make a Stray Cats record,”
explains Brian Setzer.

So, following a number of enthusiastically received live shows in North America, the Stray Cats entered Blackbird Studios in Nashville, with producer Peter Collins, at the tail end of 2018 and laid down the basic tracks for

The band get straight down to business on this album with the rocking Chuck Berry sounding number Cat Fight (Over A Dog Like Me), followed by the equally swaggering Rock It Off, on which Setzer can be seen playing his favoured 1959 Gretsch 6120 in the live version. This is followed by I’ve Got Love If You Want It; with these first three tracks forming a kind of statement that bellows: “we’re back to rock this house - and don’t you doubt it!”

However, it is the next number, Cry Danger, that makes the album start to sound exciting and new – if you can call a 60s retro number ‘new’ – with a spectacular guitar lick from Setzer.  

I Attract Trouble
confirms Stray Cats are not afraid of going into fresh territory, in this case beach and surf territory, with another great riff from Setzer. Three Times A Charm returns to the classic sound that reminds this reviewer of Bill Haley and the Comets and the whole US 50s vibe; while That’s Messed Up finds Setzer playing another outstanding guitar solo.

When Nothing’s Going Right
delivers another strong guitar track, while Desperado is an instrumental number that recalls Spaghetti Westerns, Link Wray and John Barry, and keeps the listener wondering what the band might have up their sleeves next. 

I’ll Be Looking Out for You
is an uptempo number that confirms Setzer as a hugely talented, and largely under-rated, musician.

This Stray Cats album is a return to form and full of infectious, foot tapping, rockabilly fun. Stray Cats fans will be overjoyed; but anyone seeking a blend of classic rock with some modern innovations will find what they are looking for here.