StratCat Willie & the Strays – On a Hot Tin Roof!
CD: 12 Songs, 39 Minutes
Styles: Ensemble Blues, Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, All Original Songs
Smooth. The word describes coffee, suave speech, silk. Carlos Santana turned it into the most famous title of one of his most famous songs. Can it describe the blues as well? More often than not, it’s been characterized as raw, rough, unrefined, made for barrooms and poolrooms instead of drawing rooms. I would say six or seven out of ten artists’ work fits the bill. However, New York’s StratCat Willie and the Strays thread the needle with aplomb on their new offering, cheekily titled On a Hot Tin Roof! Its twelve original selections would be equally welcome at your local tavern or nightclub. They’re so short that if you blink, you’ll miss them, but they add up to thirty-nine minutes of some of the most appealing music I’ve heard this year – overall.
In the liner notes, Willie Hayes explains the origins of the CD’s opener, a big-band blast called “Have a Blues Party.” “When I wrote [it] back in the summer of 2021, I sorta figured, even hoped, that by the time it was released, it would no longer be relevant! And yet things continued to drag on. But it looks like now we may finally be on the other side of all this. So I invite you to join me for a long-awaited party! Let’s ‘drive on through the rain’ and explore the many moods of the blues. From the tears of a love gone bad, to the playfulness of tunes in the styles of Louis Jordan and T-Bone Walker. And the Blues will get us all through it, together, in the end.” Truer words were never spoken than these last, yet every genre guru repeats them.
Who’s reveling along with StratCat (guitars and vox)? Neal Massa on keyboards, John Wisor and Vinnie Burvee on bass, Dave Fiorini and Dave Salce on drums, Mabel Welch and Sing Trece on vocals, Rich Graiko on trumpet, Josh Cohen on sax, and Jeremy Hummel on percussion.
Almost never have I heard such a seamless quality to a CD, the way one track flows into another with nary a hiccup, sustaining the momentum that the first number builds all the way to the end. This goes for the instrumentation as well. As with all ensemble bands, there’s a lot to unpack, from sax to bass to trumpet to keyboards to lead and background vocals. If they’re not only mixed well afterward, but balanced skillfully during the studio takes, it just sounds like chaos. Noise. In this case, that’s not the case, and I’m grateful. StratCat and the Strays know exactly what they’re doing. From the high-voltage funk of the title tune to the tongue-in-cheek humor of “Redneck Woman” to the tenderness of “My One True Love,” each separate song is as connected to the others – almost interconnected – as beads in a rosary or links in a chain. You won’t find that intangible aspect on many blues albums, so I’m thrilled I found it here.
StratCat Willie and the Strays offer up smooth blues while they’re On A Hot Tin Roof!