Judging by the liner notes on his new French-label album, BillyHancock is being introduced to European audiences as a "new talent" who was recently discovered by "American Show Business" in the wake of the Stray Cats' success. Say what?
Hancock was conversant with rockabilly long before the Stray Cats had the strength to slap a bass string. Moreover, "American Show Business" has yet to discover him. Still, France is in for a treat when Hancock starts his tour there next week, as is any local fan who shops the import bins for his "Hey! Little Rock and Roller."
The album's 15 tracks, recorded in Maryland and Virginia, have a broader focus than those on Hancock's last album, "Shakin' That Rockabilly Fever." Apart from a trace of poppish filler ("I Wanna Be Yours") and a less-than-memorable rockabilly novelty number ("The Bug"), the material is consistently sharp, whatever the tune. Whether inspired by the loose-limbed spontaneity of mid-'50s Sun sessions ("We Wanna Boogie"), some of Elvis Presley's early ballads on RCA ("Golden Tear") or even the joyful sound of rhumba-inflected New Orleans r&b piano ("Crying Shame"), one thing is for sure: Hancock has the sound down.
He captures it not only as a singer, but also as a guitarist, one of several on the album whose extensive vocabulary of familiar licks makes you believe rockabilly has a future after all. Aiding Hancock are several fine area musicians, including Evan Johns, Jon Carroll, Mitch Collins and Martha Hull. ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUM BILLY HANCOCK -- Hey! Little Rock and Roller (Big Beat Records BRR 1013). THE SHOW BILLY HANCOCK, Friday at 9 at the Wax Museum.