Angel Air www.angelair.co.uk [Release date 10.03.14]
Stray hail from the golden age of classic rock in the 1970’s, but somehow missed out on the mainstream recognition and rewards hoovered up by the likes of Humble Pie, Quo and Thin Lizzy. That’s a shame because Stray rattle out a strong brand of hook-laden, accessible hard rock that deserves a higher profile.
They are still going strong, although in a new incarnation. The original band drew stumps in 1977 and through various reformations became a power trio under the leadership of lead guitarist and founder Del Bromham in the late 90’s. Bromham has been the only constant since then. In that period the band have pushed out a couple or three of studio albums and a few other live albums too.
This collection captures for posterity Stray’s first ever shows in Japan last year. Four tracks come from 2009’s ‘Valhalla’ album, kicking off with ‘Move A Mountain’. Bromham’s incendiary guitar immediately assumes centre stage. ‘Free At Last’ quickly follows. The sound is mostly good and captures the essential ingredient of Bromham’s growling, hammering riffs and the towering, fluid fretwork. ‘Harry Farr’ really demonstrates the virtuosity and varied construction of the Stray sound.
It’s a tight performance from the band, despite this being only the fourth Stray gig for Robbie Stewart-Mathews on bass. Karl Randall has occupied the drum stool for 10 years or so and sounds assured and busy. If anything Bromham’s vocals are a bit shaky. There’s a few duff notes at the top end and some scraggy, grating delivery here and there. But for the most part the big hooks, anthems and choruses are intact.
Six of the 10 tracks on offer are from the band’s ‘70’s output. Pumping classics like ‘After The Storm’ and ‘Suicide’ stand up well and are as valid as they day they were penned. Set closer is an epic ‘All In Your Mind’ from the band’s 1970 debut platter and once covered by Iron Maiden. Perhaps a bit on the rambly side, it is nevertheless given the full wah-wah and pyrotechnical works here.
Overall, Japan’s first taste of Stray seems to go down well. This is a decent marker of where the band are right now. There are probably better live outings available, but this is as good a point as any to rediscover the infectious energy and stomp of one of rock’s great survivors. ***½
Review by Dave Atkinson
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