May 27, The Marquee, sonicconcerts.com
Is Willie Stratton the real deal? So much of rock ‘n’ roll and vintage country-western music—the Venn diagram overlap where Stratton is planting his sonic flag—hinges on a visceral sense of authenticity. If the heartbreaks are fiction rather than lived—if the denim comes pre-distressed—all bets are off.
Stratton has been carving his niche in Halifax since his late teens, playing ferocious folk songs to crammed-in crowds at university open mic nights. (They were all coming to see him.) Back then (2012) he had a band and a steel guitar, a kid from Bedford who loved Woody Guthrie. In the years since, he’s created albums that are Dick Dale-indebted surf rock (2020’s Grease Coast, featuring the band Beach Bait) and ones that skew so old-school country they could’ve been covers from The Grand Ole Opry (2016’s Della Rosa).
Now, Stratton is back with his latest, April 2022’s Drugstore Dreamin': An album that reigns in the genre playacting and proves that yes, he is the genuine article—and that if you haven’t been paying attention to the multiple ECMA-nominated singer-songwriter, it’s high time you start.
Stratton will be celebrating its official release with a big ticket show at The Marquee May 27, bringing local blues band Campbell & Johnston along to warm the stage at 2037 Gottingen Street. Fans of alt-country or spine-straightening bass lines will be there early.
Across Drugstore Dreamin', a drawling baritone brings immediate comparisons to a less-theatrical Orville Peck or a Sun Record-era Johnny Cash. There’s a sense of early Elvis and Roy Orbison inflecting Stratton’s singing—one that’s weighty enough to counter the pipe organ swell that opens the album and keeps the sonic palette steeped in shades of indigo.
Lyrically, it feels like Stratton is braiding 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 (even if you doubt the indie star has ever ridden a horse) you believe it instantly when Stratton sings lines like “I ain’t got no plans/I’m an Aqua Velva man/You better believe I’ll be drugstore dreamin’”: This isn’t an act. It’s just one of the best albums of 2022.