Stray Cats

Built for Speed

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In 1982, the unexpected success of the Stray Cats' American debut, Built for Speed, made America aware that rockabilly, previously believed to be extinct, was actually alive and well somewhere in New Jersey (though the evidence had to be taken to England before anyone would notice). Pulling together six songs from the Stray Cats' self-titled debut, five tunes from the follow-up Gonna Ball, and one previously unreleased number (the title song), Built for Speed is song-for-song the group's strongest album, despite the cut-and-paste manner in which it was created. Originality was never this band's strongest suit, and as songwriters the Stray Cats rarely wandered far from the traditional themes of cars, girls, rockin', and their own level of coolness, but Brian Setzer's fleet-fingered guitar work revealed that he'd absorbed the lessons of Cliff Gallup, James Burton, and Scotty Moore and constructed an impressive and colorful style of his own from the parts, while Lee Rocker and Slim Jim Phantom were an admirably potent and appropriately uncluttered rhythm section (the clean, streamlined production, by Dave Edmunds on most cuts, also helped quite a bit). If the group's songs haven't all worn the test of time especially well, the melodies are strong and the playing is tight and enthusiastic throughout. While you're better off with a good collection from Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, or Charlie Feathers, there are a lot worse ways you could learn about rockabilly than to pick up Built for Speed -- which is a good thing, since if you were born after 1965, chances are it was where you learned about rockabilly.

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