The Stray Cats' second album, Gonna Ball, was considered something of a disappointment when it was released in 1981; back then, it had the disadvantage of competing with the expectations raised by its immediate predecessor, a miraculous debut produced under the guidance of Dave Edmunds. When they pulled up stakes in England and returned to the U.S.A., they signed with EMI-America and built their American debut around what the band considered the best songs off of their first two records -- as a result, neither U.K. album was widely heard intact on American shores. Heard on its own terms 23 years later, Gonna Ball seems like a minor masterpiece, capturing the group going deep into early rock & roll and even pre-rock & roll roots music and far beyond the boundaries of rockabilly, supported by various players, including Rolling Stones alumnus Ian Stewart. Their rendition of Johnny Burnette's "Baby Blue Eyes" was a bracing opener (later moved to the closing spot on their third album). Brian Setzer's "Cryin' Shame" included a killer extended jam and harmonica showcase, and the Lee Rocker/Slim Jim Phantom-authored "(She'll Stay Just) One More Day" was a sophisticated piece of jump blues with a beautiful sax solo at its center and powerful central riff; Setzer's "What's Goin' Down (Cross That Bridge)," in turn, was as fine a Bo Diddley tribute as had been done by any white artist since the 1960s -- and none of those three made it on to their American debut LP. Setzer's "You Don't Believe Me" oozed the spirit of Elmore James out of every guitar note, while "Gonna Ball" and "Wicked Whisky" were exercises in rockabilly primitivism. "Rev It Up and Go" -- which made it to the third album -- was an impassioned Chuck Berry homage that also obliquely acknowledged the Beach Boys' service in making his riffs work in a uniquely white suburban context. "Lonely Summer Nights" -- also on the third album -- proved that this band could handle the ballad side of '50s music with the best of them when they wanted to. And "Crazy Mixed Up Kids" (which didn't make the cut to album number three) was a psychobilly instrumental workout par excellence.
AllMusic Review by Bruce Eder