HeadCat – Walk the Walk … Talk the Talk (2011)

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by Fred Phillips

You won’t find a much stranger mix than HeadCat. On vocals and bass, you have metal legend Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead. On drums, you’ve got Slim Jim Phantom from the Stray Cats. On the guitar and piano, there’s Texas country/rockabilly musician Danny B. Harvey, whose resume includes stints with a wide range of artists, including Bow Wow Wow, Wanda Jackson, Nancy Sinatra, “Little” Steven Van Zandt and Brian Setzer. To make things a little stranger, their debut record, Walk the Walk … Talk the Talk, is out this week on Niji Entertainment, the label started by Ronnie James Dio and his wife Wendy.

On paper, that combination of elements may sound like a train wreck. Coming out of the speakers, though, it’s a cool little collection of old school rock ‘n’ roll — a reminder of when the music was fun and artists didn’t take themselves or their status as celebrities too seriously.

While the metal community has long claimed Motorhead as its own, Lemmy has always insisted that they’re a straight-up rock ‘n’ roll band. A critical listen to the band’s music over the years will yield quite a few moments that have more in common with Chuck Berry than Black Sabbath — albeit Chuck Berry played at a pain-inducing volume level after he’s smoked three packs and downed a couple of bottles of Jack Daniel’s a day for 40 years. With HeadCat, though, Lemmy turns down the volume a little bit and focuses on the raw roots of the music, and his performance is surprisingly good.

Of the 12 tracks on Walk the Walk … Talk the Talk, only two are originals. The opening track and first single, “American Beat,” is a high energy, late 1950s/early 1960s rocker, complete with Harvey banging on the piano Jerry Lee Lewis style. It announces right away what this record is going to be about. The second original track, “The Eagle Flies on Friday,” is a pretty standard, slowed-down 12-bar blues tune. It’s one of the best performances on the record for Lemmy, as his gruff voice takes on a smoky tone for the slower portions of the song. It’s an understated performance, which is something the Motorhead frontman isn’t exactly known for, but delivers often here. When the loud part of the song kicks in, Harvey takes over laying down some smooth, tone-filled leads.

The remaining 10 tracks are a wild mixture of covers. In the mix, you have tunes ranging from Berry and The Beatles to Elvis and Jerry Lee to Webb Pierce and Mel Tillis.

You’d expect the uptempo numbers to be solid, and they are. Covers of Gene Vincent’s “Say Mama,” Berry ’s “Let it Rock,” Lewis’ “It’ll Be Me” and Larry Williams’ “Bad Boy” (also covered by The Beatles) are fun and entertaining. In fact, “Bad Boy” seems to perfectly fit Lemmy’s personality, and he sounds like he’s having more fun on “It’ll Be Me” than anywhere else on the record. The surprising performances, though, are the slower numbers. One of my favorites is “Shakin’ All Over,” a cover of the UK band Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. It’s got a great repeating lead lick that hooks you, and Harvey gives the song a bit of a ZZ Top-like feel with his guitar work. Their take on Elvis’ “Trying to Get to You” shows off a smooth side of Lemmy’s vocals on the verse that Motorhead fans may not have known existed.

Perhaps the most surprising track, for obvious reasons, is the country tune “I Ain’t Never,” penned by Pierce and Tillis. They give the song a little bit of rock ‘n’ roll flavor, but for the most part keep it in a twangy, country realm, and it’s a great rendition. There’s also a poppy turn on a cover of The Beatles’ “You Can’t Do That.” The harmonies on the song are a little rough, just like Lemmy’s vocals, but it’s still fun. Album closer “Crossroads” is certainly closer to the Eric Clapton version than the Robert Johnson one, and it has a little less impact than the rest of the record because of the exposure the Clapton version still enjoys on classic rock radio.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one last tune on this record, HeadCat’s version of this site’s namesake, Eddie Cochran’s “Something Else.” And I did save the best for last. Like most of the songs here, it’s a pretty faithful cover, but it brings a lot of energy and attitude, supplied in large part by the pumped-up piano pieces by Harvey and, of course, a genial performance from Lemmy.

The vocals will be the most surprising part of this record for fans coming from the Motorhead camp. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still Lemmy through and through, but he shows quite a bit of variety in stylings here, and he’s not always trying to send his vocal cords flying out of his mouth the way he is much of the time with Motorhead. He actually has some moments, as heard on songs like “Trying to Get to You” and “I Ain’t Never,” where the vocals are barely gruff at all. Harvey ’s guitar work is smooth and impressive. The drums, of course, are particularly important on the upbeat numbers, and Slim Jim Phantom, who is not exactly a stranger to the style, delivers some head-bobbing beats.

More than anything, though, the record shows a true affection and respect for this brand and era of music from all three members of the band. While hardcore fans of Tillis, Presley or any of the other artists covered aren’t likely to be won over by these versions, they are well done, and they’re genuine. And, who knows? It may introduce fans of Motorhead or the Stray Cats to another generation of rock. All I know is that I like it, and I had a big grin on my face the whole time I was listening to it.

To paraphrase Lemmy’s favorite show-opening line: They’re HeadCat, and they play rock ‘n’ roll.

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