|Best Dawn Yet, The Blue Cats
Blue Light Records BLR 33165 2
I've been waiting for this disc! Heck, I've been waiting for a disc LIKE this for ages!
The Blue Cats have always endeavored to make their own brand of rockabilly and keep it progressive. This has won them many fans over the past 30 years...but has, I'm sure, upset a few of the purists out there. Clint Bradley doesn't attempt to write songs that sound like lost 50s gems. He knows his stuff and he knows how to write, that's a fact! The Blue Cats DO NOT sound like any band I've heard.
Yes. This is rockabilly. There's no doubt about that...but these cats drag it kicking and screaming into the 21st century...and they do so without sounding ridiculous. This disc is a breath of fresh air!
Starting out with the single "Billy Ruffians", you know what your in for. A GREAT RECORD! I reviewed this song a while back when I received an advance copy of the vinyl single (b/w "Gotta Go") and if that review wasn't enough to pique your interest, let me see if I can add to it. Opening with Carlo Edwards' shimmering guitar, Clint Bradley screaming "Trafalgar!" and then the rhythm section of Stef Edwards (drums) and Steve Whitehouse (doghouse bass) kicking in, this song is set to kick ya in the gut! It MOVES! Whitehouse's bass line on this song has become one of my personal faves of all-time. I'll rate it right up there with Bill Black on "Baby Let's Play House" or Paul Simonon on "London Calling". This song ROCKS...but it's interesting on so many levels. 1st off, who the heck writes a rockabilly song about an early 19th century naval battle???? Clint Bradley, that's who! And not only does he write about it, his skills are such that your mind will flood with mental images throughout the song. By the time it's done, you'll probably go back and listen to a few more times. I know I did! Big thanks to the folks at Blue Light for going the extra mile and giving us a 12 page booklet complete with lyrics! If every other song on this disc sucked (and trust me, they do NOT!), this song alone would be worth the cost of the disc.
So after an opener like that, where does a band go? To a bit of bikerbilly, where else???? "Norton Spirit" is written for the motorbike enthusiast in all of us. Again, not attempting to sound like anyone else, these cats rock it forward with that pounding rhythm and glistening guitar. This song rocks and rocks hard. Steve Whitehouse has quickly become one of my favorite bass thumpers. This track somehow manages to straddle the rockabilly feel, all the while sounding completely modern. A difficult feat to be sure...but The Blue Cats manage it like the pros they are!
OK purists... there's even a few tracks on here for you! "Turn My Back On You" is as hardcore, old school rockabilly as you're gonna find. This track will have you stomping your feet or Boppin' Your Betty (or Billy) across the dance floor. The Edwards/Whitehouse rhythm section just thwacks away behind some excellent picking by Carlo Edwards and Clint Bradley adopts a breathless voice and leaves even the most die-hard purist begging for more. And more there is!
When I 1st spied the title "Blue Prairie" on the track listing, I got a little worried. A quick look through the booklet confirmed that yes indeed, this is a cover of the old Sons of the Pioneers song from the 30s or 40s. I wondered if these cats could keep up their sound on this old song...and dang, they knock it out of the park! They don't rewrite it, they simply adapt it to their style. Clint Bradley's vocals are perfect for this and Carlo Edwards' guitar style fits like a glove! Slow, dark, almost ethereal, the song invokes images of the open plains...and Carlo Edwards throws in some beautiful steel guitar playing, followed by some guitar riffing that Mr. Setzer can only wish he could lay claim to! I'll suggest this to some of the UK country bands I know. If you can pull this off...you're on to something!
Up next if "My Dar Dark Mind", another Bradley original. WOW! After the previous track, this one comes out of left field but it'll grab your attention. Started with a simply guitar riff and some steel guitar slides, this mid tempo bopper just chugs along. I'm sure we've all had times when we crept into the darkest corners of our minds: anger, revenge, paranoia...Bradley taps into this and he and the boys treat us to strong bit of music therapy. But wait...nylon string guitar for the solo? BRILLIANT! The production on this disc is simply superb!
This disc just gets more and more interesting with each track! "Badon Hill", which I can only guess references King Arthur's 12th battle, has a nice, Johnny Cash-like rhythm to it. Bradley's rhythm guitar is definitely reminiscent of Luther Perkins on this one. Again, I'm drawn to the lyrics because this sure ain't your daddy's typical rockabilly! Lines about "rust on our swords" may not be what the typical rockabilly fan expects to hear...but maybe they should! Bradley's writing throughout this album just continues to impress the heck out of me... and I've had some of the original SUN Records guys cover my songs!
"Long Road Home" has a great, almost Southern Rock, feel to it. Musically busy, its moves along like a freight train! This is going to prove to be a great driving song. I can't wait to get behind the wheel and crank this out on a road trip...even if it's just to the supermarket!
"Captain Blood" has quickly become a fave for me. This track was originally recorded in 1990 and mixed at Mohawk Mountain here in the States. While definitely having a "billy" feel to it, it's darker than most things "billy" but it moves and grooves and reads almost like a pirate story (and really, who DOESN'T like pirate tales?). I have a strong feeling my girlfriend is going to be so moved by this track that she may be "borrowing" the disc more than I care for. Oh well, as long as she takes good care of it.
Time for another one for the purists! It's been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and the liner notes freely point out that the song "Burnette" was "written, recorded and played in a style that is a tribute to both Johnny Burnette and Grady Martin", both big influences on the band. Starting out as a spot on cover of the Rock & Roll Trio's "Lonesome Train", the lyrics plead for more Johnny Burnette...a sentiment I'm sure that you readers can relate to. THIS is Rockabilly! As pure as it gets!
"Following Ahab" is another, what I can now guess is, typical Clint Bradley nod to history and the British fondness for the sea and navy. Opening with more of Edwards scintillating guitar, Bradley sings of a man who has left his love crying while he goes out to sea. A mid tempo thumper, this song is emotive in all the right ways...without being maudlin. Songwriting is most definitely a craft and Clint Bradley knows his craft well!
While I, at first, questioned the need for a band, of this excellent caliber, to cover "Secret Agent Man", The Blue Cats take this and can lay claim to the new definitive version. Everything about this song fits The Blue Cats perfectly. They keep it danceable and "billy" but also manage to make it darker than any surf guitar picker version out there. The producers of the next James Bond film may want to consider having The Blue Cats write and record the next theme song!
So how does a band this good close out a disc this good? Any producer will tell you that the idea is to leave the listener wanting more...and The Blue Cats manage that and then some! I usually like a good strong, upbeat ending. The Blue Cats chose to close with...a cowboy song. Not the choice that I would've made...but then again, I'm the one sitting here writing about it rather than being the one written about...so what does that tell you? "Lonesome Desperado" is beautifully written, played and sang, and takes you, the listener, riding off into the sunset. Until the next disc that is. You will be left wanting more...and I'm pretty sure that Clint Bradley and The Blue Cats have plenty more coming your way. These guys are tearing up Europe with sold out gigs all over and are even, so I'm told, entertaining offers to come Stateside. I can only hope they get back over here! Until then, I'll have to be content with this disc, as well as the reissue of their classic "THE TUNNEL"...but more about that one next time.
Until then, if you only buy one disc this year, THIS is the one to get! You'll be glad you dig. Just tell `em Memphis Mike sent ya! (and no...I don't get kickbacks. If I did, I'd be writing about awful pop music)
If you can't be good, be good at it. - MM
Clint Bradley (Voice, Harmonies, Acoustic & Electric Guitars)
Billy Ruffians video: http://youtu.be/K3HX-geuja0
More about The Blue Cats: CLICK HERE
Reviewed by Memphis Mike, 2012