The Head Cat - Fool's Paradise Review
by Patrick Muldowney
Big frowns all around to the marketing people at Rock-A-Billy Records for placing that "file under" command on the disc. Of course it may result in purchases from Lemmy fans, but it is a quick buck that closes off a larger audience than it approaches, and Fool's Paradise deserves a status above novelty. There are plenty of young Rock-A-Billy fans who would never think of scanning the Motorhead department for their fix. Also, there are a tremendous amount of "Baby Boomers", plus those born in the 50s and 60s who are devoted listeners of pre-hippie rock, which is the world of Rock-A-Billy, although my parents, who grew up on it, wouldn't know what the hell I was talking about using that moniker. Why "file under Motorhead"? Why not send this album to stations that play music from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, and challenge them to play new music that pays tribute to the decades they endorse, so the many people who believe the music they like was replaced with rap, dance, and metal, comprehend that it's still alive and kicking? It is clear those questions were not fleshed out by those marketing Fool's Paradise once "file under" appeared on the disc. Lemmy fans are diehards who do not need easy access. They would sniff him out in a sea of Roxette discs.
Apparently the members of this all star group, featuring the aforementioned Lemmy, Slim Jim Phantom, drummer from Stray Cats, and Danny Harvey, guitarist from 13 Cats, are most enamored with Buddy Holly. There is not an original piece on the disc, and nine of the fifteen tracks are Holly tunes. With Lemmy on vocals, the title track, "Fool's Paradise", has a very Kinks-like sound, especially when the harmonies kick in. Often times, covers seem to lose their spirit in the hands of other artists, but "Fool's Paradise", when performed by The Head Cat, is as lively as it was a half-century earlier. Lemmy Kilmister is not quite the vocal match people would automatically envision when thinking Buddy Holly, but he really does a fine job delivering his songs, especially during the jungle toms of "Not Fade Away", and the acoustic rhythm of "Crying, Waiting, Hoping". The grizzled texture is more melodic than most Motorhead fans would imagine possible. Out of the Buddy Holly tracks, only "Take Your Time", and "Learning the Game", seem like stretches vocally.
The six non-Holly tracks pay tribute to the artists at Sun Records, and its founder Sam Phillips. There are four blues songs featured from the likes of Jimmy Reed, T-Bone Walker, Lloyd Price, and Carl Perkins, plus two early rock standards from Elvis and Johnny Cash. The Head Cat does a phenomenal job with Cash's "Big River". The "Man in Black" has such a signature sound and approach that, even though he is covered often, it is difficult to deliver with a great degree of authenticity. The moment "Big River" is heard though, those who have little background on Cash, possibly only seeing the movie, will immediately recognize the source for this selection. Two of the strongest songs end the album, as "Big River" is followed by Perkins' "Matchbox", which is rocked out a bit thanks to the guitar work of Danny Harvey, who makes it a little more honkey tonk than blues. "Matchbox" is the song you'd picture playing during a huge barroom brawl.
The trio, known as The Head Cat, is very impressive, especially considering the short time they dedicated to this project. Given their backgrounds, talent is a given, but just because ability is present, providing listenable music is not a guarantee (see Damnocracy). If you are a fan of Rock-A-Billy music, which is so deeply rooted in all of today's sounds, Fool's Paradise, by The Head Cat, will not be a disappointment. It might even leave each listener imagining what possibilities could exist with original material from this band. At the very least, it should provide modern listeners with a window into a rock world which is worth traveling back five decades to experience.
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