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STRAY Valhalla Angel Air SJPCD336 (2009)


The album title may not be original and the band name may have done the rounds for close on 40 years, but with 'Valhalla' Del Bromham has just cut his best ever album.

From the excellent art work of bass player Stuart Uren to Del's effervescent guitar work and his best ever vocal performance, 'Valhalla' is a triumph. And the main reason for the quantum leap is simply the consistency of the kick-ass rock songs, the thoughtful lyrics and a state of the art production that is easily the best in Stray's career.

'Vahalla' rocks from the off with a big drum sound and the sort of killer guitar work that anyone who has witnessed this power trio would expect. It's hard to believe Del only stepped out to belatedly front his own version of Stray in the mid 90's. Quite why he never did this before is as much to do with the band's democracy of old as with his self deprecating lack of confidence. But that clearly is in the past because 'Vahalla' is the sort of powerful rock album that will surely cement the current resurrection of Stray's recording career.

From the soaring guitars of the opening 'Move a Mountain' to the Zeppelin influenced 'Dirt Finger, this album takes no prisoners. And while the hard rock edge is given a welcome and powerful update by producer Chris Tsangarides (Gary Moore, Lizzy, Malmsteen, Sabbath), it is songs such as '1600 Pennsylvania Avenue' that push this CD to the very top of Del's recording output.

The above track combines a cutting edge rock arrangement a with poignant lyrics and a big chorus, while the following 'Free At Last' rocks out with rare abandon and is destined to become a live favourite. There can be very few bands who in their fifth decade cut a career best album, but Del's has managed it with plenty to spare.

He relishes the big studio sound and the intuitive production that tellingly pays as much attention to his vocals as to his characteristic rocking edge. But when it does come to the guitar parts suffice it to say that Bromham's playing is a joy, being full of imaginative runs, colourful tones and oodles of dexterity.

On 'Free at Last' he's pushed to the limit by a killer rhythm section and cleverly unravels the song's dynamic as the solo careers into a wall of psychedelic wah wah and arpeggios, leaving the listener with nothing to do but crank up the volume and enjoy!

Del further adds some sterling guitar work on the impressive historical biography of 'Harry Farr' a number that is carried along on the back of an impressive melody line, a pounding rhythm track, some venomous lyrics and a U2 style sing-along chorus. This really is cracking stuff.

For the rest there's a mix of riff driven guitar work, a tough rocker in the shape of 'Sing (The Song)' and some unlikely 70's 'Shaft'-sounding funk and synth-strings on 'Rainy Days Blues'.

Drummer Karl Randall even adds a staccato Rush style drum pattern on '24/7' with Del blazing his way through several chord changes before the hugely enjoyable album finishes with some refracted Beatlesy vocal touches on the closing 'You'.

'Valhalla' is an album that showcases both Del's strengths singularly and the band's abrasive style collectively and unlike just about anyone else from his era, 'Valhalla' has dragged the band's 70's rooted brand name into the 21st century with plenty to spare.


Review by Pete Feenstra

Best of 2009

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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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