May 27, The Big Top, sonicconcerts.com
IIs Willie Stratton the real deal? Much of rock ‘n’ roll and vintage country-western music — the Venn diagram overlaps where Stratton plants his sonic flag — relies on a visceral sense of authenticity. If the heartaches are fictional rather than lived – if the denim is pre-distressed – all bets are off.
Stratton has carved out a niche for himself in Halifax since his late teens, playing fierce folk songs to packed crowds at open-mic college nights. (They were all coming to see him.) At the time (2012), he had a band and a steel guitar, a kid from Bedford who loved Woody Guthrie. In the years that followed, he created albums that are indebted surf rock by Dick Dale (2020s fat ribfeaturing the band Beach Bait) and those that distort old-school country so much they could have been covers of The Grand Ole Opry (2016 della rosa).
Now Stratton is back with his latest April 2022 album. Drugstore Dreamin’: An album that reigns in the acting genre and proves that yes, he is the true article—and that if you haven’t been paying attention to the multiple ECMA-nominated singer-songwriter, he it’s high time to get started.
Stratton will be celebrating their official release with a big ticket show at the Marquee on May 27, bringing local blues band Campbell & Johnston to heat up the stage at 2037 Gottingen Street. Fans of alt-country or spine-straightening bass lines will be there early.
On the other side Drugstore Dreamin’, a drawling baritone brings immediate comparisons to a less theatrical Orville Peck or a Sun Record-era Johnny Cash. It feels like early Elvis and Roy Orbison bend Stratton’s vocals – vocals heavy enough to counter the swell of the pipe organ that opens the album and keeps the sonic palette steeped in indigo undertones.
Lyrically, it sounds like Stratton is weaving inherited memories absorbed by osmosis from twin peaks rewatches, Buddy Holly songs or vintage pulp novels.
But, the way you know Peck is a cowboy (though you doubt the indie star has ever ridden a horse), you instantly believe him when Stratton sings lines like “I ain’t got no plans/I ‘m an Aqua Velva man/ You better believe I’ll be dreaming in a pharmacy”: It’s not an act. It’s just one of the best albums of 2022.