Perhaps the highest compliment that can be paid of The Bopcats is that when they're true to their can't-lose rockabilly formula, their originals equal the best of their covers. So it’s a good thing that on 25 Years of Rock ‘n’ Roll, we get 11 originals alongside the 6 covers.
Lindy Fralin is among the best rockabilly singers I’ve ever heard. His vocals are effortlessly cool and chock full of personality – not unlike Dwight Yoakum. While three Bopcats share vocal duties, the standout performances can be heard on The Bopcats’ "All I Need" and "Crazy Lil Baby" and their cover of The Blasters’ “Marie Marie.”
On "All I Need," The Bopcats are rockabilly at its most infectious. This gem manages to pack into just over two minutes: harmonizing vocals, chugging rhythm guitar, rockabilly lead guitar, moving bass, and the memorable wordplay, “All I need is what I want in the meantime / What I need in the meantime, baby, is you” and “I’ll give you a whirl, till I get some other girl / In the meantime, I guess you’ll have to do / ‘Cause all I need in the meantime baby is you.” The song also features sax and keys that add rather than detract from this compact, pop song-craft. If they’re not already, the players on piano and saxophone should be named the fourth and fifth Bopcats (check out "On a Roll" for more proof).
The album is not uniformly perfect. "Jenny Jenny" is effects-laden/muddy and relatively ineffective. Reverend Horton Heat does it better, and The Bopcats are best when they’re upbeat. Another misfit: the duetting guest vocalist on "Sweet Thing," though he could excel in other subgenres.
With respect to the songs originated by other artists, The Bopcats would do well to avoid covering universally familiar songs that are carried by giant personalities such as Johnny Cash (on "Get Rhythm") and George Jones ("The Race is On"). Despite all of Mr. Fralin’s natural talent, Cash and Jones are ace storytellers, and so it’s a game The Bopcats are not suited to play. The Cash cover also suffers from a notable lack of energy, i.e. The Bopcats' 2:48 version doesn't approach the propulsive guitar-picking and percussion of the 2:11 original.
The covers are more of a let-down when they recall not one, but two songs. For example, “Ventilator Blues” is not The Rolling Stones' most famous track, and to me it recalled The Beatles’ "Come Together," which appeared years earlier. Worse yet, Warren Smith’s “Red Cadillac and a Black Mustache” (here, just “Red Cadillac”) is reminiscent of the overplayed Wayne Cochran track, “Last Kiss” (popularized by Pearl Jam), though it’s unclear which was written first.
At several points on the album, The Bopcats are so good, they don't need to cover others’ music. If The Bopcats continue to write songs like "All I Need" and "Crazy Lil Baby," they’ll soon become part of the canon that future bands cover.
Key Tracks: All I Need, Crazy Lil Baby, Marie Marie
Brian Koppen - Muzikreviews.com Contributor
September 30, 2012