This CD review was originally published in the January 16, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at thebluesblast.com
The Bopcats – 25 Years of Rock & Roll
17 tracks / 53:24
Lindy Fralin is a household name amongst guitarists, as his custom guitar pickups are well-regarded by players that are looking to upgrade the tone of their axes. Heck, I have bought a few of his products over the years too, and they were all worth the money. But they may not know that the reason his pickups sound so good is because he is an accomplished guitarist in his own right, so he knows exactly what kind of tone is needed for live and studio performances.
Lindy formed The Bopcats a quarter of a century ago, and they have been playing out of Richmond, Virginia ever since. His current band includes Paul Hammond on drums and Steve Hudgins on bass, but over the years he has been joined by his brothers John and Gary Fralin on the keyboards, and a retinue of great bassists, drummers and horn players. They have been making their bread as a gigging band, with their recording efforts limited to a few albums in the 1980s and demo tapes for their press kits. But they recently released a neat CD, 25 Years of Rock and Roll, and it is a great overview of their work, which is rooted firmly in genuine 1950s-style rockabilly.
This CD includes seventeen tracks, eleven of which are originals. The balance of the material is carefully selected covers from the likes of Johnny Cash, The Rolling Stones, and the Blasters, and there is not a clunker on the album. The band’s overall sound and tone was pulled straight from the early days of rock and popular country music, and is just as pleasing fifty years later. In keeping with the vintage vibe there is only one tune that clocks in longer than four minutes.
25 Years of Rock and Roll starts off with two original tracks, “I Don’t Want to Be Alone” and “Dark Train,” and right away you will hear that that these guys are adept at writing, and have nailed the rockabilly vibe. Fralin’s guitar is tight, the drums are snare-heavy, the bass is round and the keyboards support the songs well. The vocals are lightly soaked with reverb and their harmonies are spot on, making this the real deal.
The rest of their original songs are also very good, and my favorite of the bunch is “Wheels of Mine.” This tune has everything I am looking for: fun guitar parts, an upbeat tempo, and nice vocal harmonies. As an added bonus it is about cars, so what is there not to like?
Their cover tunes run quite the gamut. Even though Dave Bartholomew’s “Who Drank My Beer?” uses raging honky-tonk piano instead of horns, it still captures the spirit of the original. The Bopcats also include a respectful version of Bob Luman’s “Red Cadillac” that includes some of the most killer vintage guitar tone ever. Their cover of the Stones’ “Ventilator Blues” actually comes off better than the original, and the vocals are strikingly Jagger-esque. Dave Alvin’s “Marie Marie” plays very well, and reminds me of how much I miss the Blasters. One song that I never saw coming was a pumped up version of Johnny Cash’s “Get Rhythm.” The band managed to convert one of my least favorite songs into something that I actually like listening to. Bravo!
The best thing about The Bopcats’ 25 Years of Rock and Roll is that this collection of songs is timeless. They could have been recorded in the 1950s, during the rockabilly renaissance in the 1980s, or today. You owe it to yourself to check out what these great musicians have put together here. It will surely put a smile on your face!