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Music Review: Stray – Valhalla

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With my nose pressed up against the window of a record store, I waited for the doors to open. The year was 1974, I was 16, and the object of my eager anticipation was the release of Move It the latest album from West London band Stray.

I had, by then, played their previous albums, the self titled debut, 1971’s Suicide, the magnificent Saturday Morning Pictures, and 1973’s timeless Mudanzas, to death and was in desperate need of more. To whet my appetite further I watched them  'live' as often as I could. This was a band rich in attitude, and presence, who simply rocked.

You won’t read a single review that doesn’t harp on about how Stray could have been huge. In my mind they were. Even now I still drag out their entire back catalogue and introduce people to the band that should have been a household name. They toured the States, sold an impressive amount of albums, and had it not been for the usual rip off deals would have achieved even more.

Sadly, they called it quits after the Hearts Of Fire album in 1976. Latterly, with the original band members scattered far and wide, guitarist Del Bromham has kept the Stray flag flying as far as humanly possible and in 1997 released the tentative New Dawn.

This was followed in 2001 with the hard edged Ten. When the Time Machine Anthology was followed by re-issues of their albums it set the scene for more to come.Well it’s here, Valhalla that is, the new album from Del Bromham’s Stray.

However, when it arrived on my doormat I must admit that I approached it with some trepidation. Having played a huge part in my addiction to rock, I was more than a little concerned that instead of the trademark exploding dustbin effect it could be something of a damp squib. Well I’m happy to eat not only my ill-judged fears, but my doormat as well. I was totally wrong.

This is an excellent rock album that sits proudly alongside the band's impressive history. Del has morphed over the years into a confident and entertaining front man, taking on both vocal duties along with his trademark guitar pyrotechnics. He is the face of today’s Stray, aware of the heritage that the name carries with it, and keen to carry it ever forward.

I challenge anyone to listen to his scorching break on the driven “Free At Last” and tell me that the passion is not what it was. Alternatively, for the same effect, listen to the scene setting opening track “Move A Mountain” with its driving guitar and impressive vocals.

Or you could blast out “Dirt Finger” a grinding sleaze bag of a riff brilliantly captured by producer Chris Tsangarides of Yngie Malmsteen, Gary Moore, and Black Sabbath fame. There is enough power bottled here to run the Isle Of Wight on festival weekend.

“1600 Pennsylvania Avenue”, the address of the White House, highlights Del’s lyrical prowess as he delivers some hard hitting observations about the realities of a faraway war. Next the Maidenesque gallop that opens “Harry Farr” leads to him exploring the tragedy of a young British soldier executed in 1916 by his own people for cowardice during an earlier, equally senseless, war.

It’s hard hitting stuff and hard hitting rock as Del launches into yet another smoking solo and young Harry faces his fate. “Skin” with its simple yet strong message of common sense leads nicely into “Double Six” and “Ghostwriter” both of which are solid offerings. “Sing (The Song)” is everything you want and hope for from Del, and is gritty, solid, and accomplished.

The opening of “Rainy Day Blues” is oddly splashed with shades of Shaft. “24/7” delivers and leads us into album closer “You”. This is a real flashback to the Steve Gadd fronted Stray of yore. As Del sings, “you’re gonna miss me when I’m gone” it sends a chill down my spine. Stray have seemingly always been a part of my life.

The rough edges are thankfully maintained throughout an album that has a directness that leaves you able to visualize cutting through the smoke hovering over the sound desk as the band takes the stage.

Forty years on and Del Bromham's Stray are alive and well and have not only helped keep that huge legacy alive but have, if anything, actually added something special to it.

Catch up on Stray at their website or MySpace page.

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About Jeff Perkins

  • JANK

    Check out Leave It Out found on Saturday Morning Pictures. AWESOME rock. Shades of King Crimson’s fantastic mid section of 21st Century Schizoid Man. wow!