La Ratte – Astray: Album Review

Competent, convincing lexicon of Americana from Dutch/Deutsch trio, La Ratte.

Release Date:  24th February 2023

Label: Continental Record Services

Formats: CD / Digital

Ladies and Gentlemen…  Please let me introduce to: La Ratte, a 3-piece Dutch/Deutsche combo that specialize in tackling and merging the disparate strands of the music genre we know as Americana.  La Ratte was born when two Dutch musicians, Harm Van Essen (guitar & vocals) and Jochem Jorrisen (drums and percussion) – each with a particular penchant for adding a dash of punk spice to American roots music – got together to see what they could produce.  As their music developed, they realized that a bass player was in order and Nikolas Karolewicz, a native of Münster, North Rhine-Westphalia who plays both electric and stand-up bass, was invited into the ranks, and the line-up was complete.

La Ratte’s music is based around Harm’s songwriting, a vocal style that covers all bases between an impassioned howl and tuneful mellowness and his accomplished, sometimes incendiary guitar playing.  The picture is completed by Jochem’s imaginative, sometimes explosive but never overplayed drumming and the rock-steady, ever-dependable bass foundation that Nikolas brings to the party.  And the result is a set of tunes that are tight as a gourmet’s cravat that touch every square metre of American Roots music, including rock & roll, country blues, Louisiana swamp sounds and Nashville country.  It’s all great fun, highly enjoyable and totally without any unnecessary frills or packaging.

Astray was recorded over a period of just seven days at Studio De Krakeling in Amsterdam and, whilst every song is played with evident discipline and competence, the spontaneity of the “live in the studio” approach still shines through.

Unexpectedly, opening track, Gotta See About a Girl, has something of a 60s southern soul/Stax feel about it.  Harm plays one of those choppy, soulful guitar parts beloved of Steve Cropper and Jochem’s drums and Nikolas’s bass are as tight as we’d been warned to expect.  It’s crisp, poppy and well-ordered, right the way down to the song’s subtle backing vocals, and Harm rounds the whole thing off with a guitar solo that sets the mood for the great things to come.

A lively drum break from Jochem introduces the Bo Diddley-inspired Love, before things start to get adventurous on the slow-building Trouble.  A sparse, dark and broody bluesy theme picks up pace and presence to culminate in a galloping, solo-laden riff;  Jochem patrols his kit whilst Nikolas keeps up that firm foundation that allows Harm to explore the outer limits of what man and guitar can deliver.

Personally, I love a tune that lures the listener into a false sense of complacency before it switches to take the dials all the way up into the red zone, and the deceptive Walking Target is a song that does just that.  A song that is, just possibly, my favourite on the album, starts life as a clean, poppy, country-tinged melody before it launches dramatically into a full-force boogie that rocks like a Cleethorpes candy store.  Harm solos as though his life depends upon it before, as quickly as it launched, the boogie boat returns to port and all is calm once more.

Nikolas plays his stand-up bass and Harm channels Chuck Berry in the straight-ahead rocker, Ain’t My Business – a prelude to the album’s longest track and centrepiece, the bluesy I Want You.  Harm once again demonstrates just what a guy can do with an electric guitar when he’s got a rock solid, dependable rhythm section behind him as, in a slight role-reversal, he screams and roars whilst his guitar does the singing.  At just short of 6 minutes, I Want is one of the album’s longer tracks, and the minutes just flip by.

Country rock is next, and Loneliness doesn’t disappoint.  It’s a bouncy, enjoyable song and Harm’s Nashville-flavoured guitar solo catches the mood perfectly.  It’s clear that the guys had been giving Creedence a listen when they came up with Garden Facing West, another of the album’s real highlights.  The template is definitely more Keep on Chooglin’ than Travelin’ Band, and it’s a template to which, I have to say, the band does full justice, and Harm’s choice of a bright, slightly fuzzed guitar sound works wonderfully.

Most of the preceding songs may have taken their inspiration from southern states like Texas, Alabama and Louisiana, but for the relentless, riffy Let Me In, we head west to California.  The band sound remarkably similar to The Doors on this one and, once again, their homage is paid with true credit. 

The band seems to having real fun on Whiskey, a slow, lazy country blues number on which Harm plays his acoustic guitar before peppering the tune with soaring howls from his electric, and the song’s refrain – “Take me away, whiskey, take me away” – is a sentiment that I’m sure we’ve all expressed at one time or another. And all of that brings us to 3am Again, the album’s slow-burner of a closer.  Harm plays a slow, tasteful guitar lick and Jochem once again pushes his kit to the limit as the intensity builds, the guitars get louder and the album is driven to its satisfying, down-home, conclusion.  It all wraps up a thoroughly enjoyable album.  La Ratte is a name to look out for, and if Astray is any indication whatsoever, their live shows are likely to be very special indeed. 

Listen to Trouble, a track from the album, here:

La Ratte: Facebook / Instagram / Bandcamp

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