Brian Setzer Orchestra

Brian Setzer Orchestra (the) ‎– 25! Live!!!

Surfdog Records ‎– 56800-1 [2017]
 Let There Be Rock – Gene & Eddie

brian setzer orchestra

Brian Setzer and Surfdog released this 12″ single for Record Store Day in 2017. Only one thousand copies were pressed.
 The A-side is a cover of AC/DC’s Let There Be Rock. And it sure rocks! The orchestra and the leader are firing on all cylinders, while the song seems to have been written for a big band. One can’t say the same of Gene and Eddie. This tribute to the two pioneers is originally a shot of pure Rock’n’roll, but the big band arrangement makes it sound more like Elvis in Las Vegas rather than 1956 and doesn’t bring much to the song. Other Stray Cats songs, like Look At That Cadillac, Lucky Charm, or Beautiful Blues, to name but three, would be more adapted.
 Anyway, this is a beautiful object in coloured vinyl, and Let There Be Rock is one of the best covers recorded by the Brian Setzer Orchestra. So if you stumble upon a copy, don’t hesitate!


Brian Setzer Orchestra – Don’t Mess With A Big Band Live

Surfdog
 Disc 1: Batman – Drive Like Lightning Crash Like Thunder – ’49 Mercury Blues – Good Rockin’ Daddy – Your True Love – The Dirty Boogie – Sleepwalk – Honey Man – This Cat’s On a Hot Tin Roof – Summertime Blues
Disc 2: Runaway Boys – Gina – Gene & Eddie – Fishnet Stockings – Stray Cat Strut – Jump Jive an’ Wail – Rumble In Brighton – Rock This Town – House is Rockin’

Brian Setzer Orchestra - Don't Mess With A Big Band Live
Brian Setzer Orchestra – Don’t Mess With A Big Band Live

When Surfdog and Brian Setzer announced that they would release live recordings found in their vault, it sounded interesting. But the excitement soon turned to disappointment when the show and the setlist were revealed. Recorded during the early 2009 Japan tour, the double album (19 tracks) contains once again Sleepwalk, Summertime Blues, The Dirty Boogie, Runaway Boys, Gene & Eddie, Stray Cat Strut, Rumble In Brighton and Rock This Town. Sure some of them are classics and must be in a Setzer show but why the guitarist keeps playing Gene & Eddie remains a complete mystery to me. This live album was the occasion to release some unusual tracks. One can have some regrets when you know that the band played some very rare songs during this tour, like Cry Baby, Ring Of Fire, Maybe Baby, Peggy Sue, Orange Blossom Special or For Lisa with the violin and the clarinet.
 Instead of that, it’s once again the same thing. The only songs not present on previous live recordings are Batman, Honey Man (could be good without those awful singers), Gina, and The House Is Rockin’.
 The band itself doesn’t sound very tight, and the arrangements are loose, especially in the trio part, where the comparison with the team Winchester/Dresel does not favour the new rhythm section. Sure the sound is good (but not exceptional either), but is that enough to buy this album (they could, at least, have included the whole show)? I’ll let you judge.
 Even the ugly cover reveals a hastily made project.


Brian Setzer Orchestra – Wolfgang’s Big Night Out

Surfdog
Take The 5th – One More Night With You – Wolfgang’s Big Night Out – Honey Man – Yes We Can Can – Swingin’ Willie – Sabre Dance – For Lisa – Here Comes The Broad – 1812 Overdrive – Some River In Europe – Take A Break Guys

Brian Setzer Orchestra - Wolfgang's Big Night Out
Brian Setzer Orchestra – Wolfgang’s Big Night Out

Note : the reviewers of the Rockabilly Chronicle have different points of view about this album which explains the two reviews.

Brian Setzer has widely been credited as being responsible for the revitalization of two music genres: rockabilly—as the frontman of the Stray Cats—and swing, as leader of the Brian Setzer Orchestra. When I heard of Setzer’s plans to record Wolfgang’s Big Night Out, an album of classical masterpieces with a big band twist, my curiosity was piqued. My exposure to the classics had been limited to hotel lobby music, Looney Tunes cartoons and my husband’s collection of Robert Schumann recordings. Could Brian Setzer breathe new life into one of the oldest music styles ever?
The answer? Yes, he can.
Setzer and company take an electrified romp through a dozen classical standards, from “Take the 5th”—an adaptation of Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5” , and a fine showcase of Setzer’s guitar wizardry—to “Take a Break Guys”, an interesting cover of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” (think Cream playing Christmas tunes after an acid trip). Classical music novices will immediately recognize “Swingin’ Willie”—a reworking of Rossini’s “William Tell Overture”—as the theme from television’s “The Lone Ranger”. The new version screams “big band” so loudly that you’d think your grandfather had cranked up the volume on his record player.
To supplement the traditional instrumentals, Brian Setzer and crew give an interesting spin to a couple of classics with the addition of vocals. “One More Night with You”, adapted from Grieg’s “Hall of the Mountain King”, swings with booming drums, a Setzer guitar solo and lots of horns. The remake is well constructed and so completely different from the original that one would think it to be a freshly composed song. “Honey Man”, an updated version of “Flight of the Bumblebee”, features BSO backup singers Julie Reiten and Leslie Spencer-Smith sharing lead vocal duties. Setzer’s fingers fly in a fiery performance, possibly his best on the entire album, proof positive that Brian Setzer is one of the finest guitarists around.
While “One More Night with You” and “Honey Man” are impressive, Setzer’s take on Beethoven’s “Fur Elise”, “For Lisa”, is not. The tune consists of a violin backed by acoustic guitar and a soft drumbeat, and lacks the joy and power of the majority of the record. The signature Setzer sound is noticeably absent from the song, which would have greatly benefited from Brian just ripping it out on his Gretsch.
Although it misses the occasional step, Wolfgang’s Big Night Out is a fine display of Brian Setzer’s ability to adapt any music style and make it his own. Unusual, energetic and, overall, entertaining, Wolfgang’s Big Night Out is a must-have for this Setzer fan.

Denise Daliege-Pierce


Playing classical music with a non-classical band is not a new idea. Bob Wills did it in the 30s with William Tell, and Spade Cooley almost turned that into a trademark with tunes by Bizet (Carmen Boogie), Beethoven and Bach. Jazz musicians like John Kirby cut some excellent swingin’ side playing Beethoven. More recently, Dave Edmunds, known for his collaboration with Setzer during the Stray Cats days, played Bizet with Love Sculpture and later released a full classical album. This is what Setzer did for his first non-Christmas album with the Brian Setzer Orchestra since Vavoom.

 And when you look at his discography in recent years, one can wonder: does Setzer run out of ideas? Two Christmas albums mainly made of covers, one tribute to Sun, one particularly uninspired “ 13”, one live album and this one (again made of non-Setzer songs). The result is really weak, which is sad when you know how talented this guy is. Only a few songs sound good. “Take The 5th”, an adaptation of Beethoven’s Symphony N° 5, is quite good with a fine swingin’ rhythm, “Sabre Dance” is equally good with its arrangement taken from Edmunds’ version, nothing too exceptional, but at least you don’t want to skip the song. By far, the best one is “For Lisa” (Beethoven’s Fur Elise), which is turned into a gipsy jazz ala Django with violin, clarinet and subtle brushwork. Listening to this one and songs like Jumpin’ At The Capitol and Beautiful Blues, imagine how good a full Setzer gipsy album would sound. The other tune I would save is “Take A Break Guys” (originally God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen). It starts like a 60’s spy movie soundtrack reminiscent of Lalo Shiffrin with twangy guitar, then turns into a 70’s exploitation movie with a wah-wah pedal on the guitar.

 For the rest, “Honeyman” (Flight Of The Bumblebee), with added lyrics sung by the vixens, is unbearable. It’s hard to resist the temptation to destroy your stereo (better skip the song). “Some River In Europe” (Blue Danube) should be a hit in every retirement house, and “One More Night With You” is the only one featuring Setzer on vocals and is to be forgotten very quickly. Even when you’re Brian Setzer, you can’t turn poor tunes into first-class material, and there’s no miracle with “Yes We Can Can” ( Offenbach’s Can Can), which evolved into a parody of New Orleans jazz.

 Hopefully, someone will show Setzer his own DVD of the BSO in Montreal in 1995, when BSO meant excitement, and it’ll give him some inspiration for his next release.

Fred “Virgil” Turgis


Brian Setzer Orchestra (the) – Guitar Slinger

Interscope Records – INTD-90051 [1996]
The House Is Rockin’ – Hoodoo Voodoo Dol – Town Without Pity – Rumble In Brighton – The Man With The Magic Touch – (The Legend Of) Johnny Kool – Ghost Radio – (Everytime I Hear) That Mellow Saxophone – Buzz Buzz – My Baby Only Cares For Me – Hey, Louis Prima – Sammy Davis City

Brian Setzer Orchestra - Guitar Slinger

If the group begins to carve out a solid reputation on stage, the first album of the Brian Setzer Orchestra does not sell well. In addition, the team that signed the artist is no longer part of Hollywood Records. Quickly Brian Setzer finds himself without a record label. But the representatives of Interscope are in the room the evening when Setzer and his orchestra give an incendiary concert. A deal is quickly concluded between the artist and the label. Also present in the room that evening, Phil Ramone offered his services as a producer. He convinces Setzer to record the album not only in live conditions but also in the same sound configuration as on stage. This choice makes all the difference with the first album, and the idea initiated two years earlier of a big band led by a Rock’n’roll guitar really takes shape from this album.
The orchestra is now a well-honed machine and does not hesitate to give its full potential on purely Rock titles, such as the cover of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s The House Is Rockin’ or Hoodoo Voodoo Doll.
The guitarist also takes the opportunity to revisit his past by covering Rumble In Brighton and That Mellow saxophone by Roy Montrell, which were present on the Stray Cats’ first album. Speaking of the Stray Cats, Town Without Pity’s version here is much more compelling than the one found on Let’s Go Faster.
Joe Strummer (Clash) collaborates on the two best tracks on the album: the savage Ghost Radio, introduced by Setzer in concert by “It’s Psychobilly Big Band time!“) and the superb Sammy Davis City, a melancholic and stripped-down ballad where Setzer’s guitar and Strummer’s impressionistic writing work wonders.
There is another reference to Sammy Davis with The Legend Of Johnny Kool, which echoes the track The Ballad Of Johnny Cool by Davis. Louis Prima is another great iconic figure summoned to join the party with Hey Louis Prima before being covered on the next album by Setzer.
The Japanese version of the album offers an entirely different tracklist. It omits some songs and adds three new tracks: Bill Doggett’s Honky Tonk and two Setzer/Strummer collaborations (Guitar Slinger and Rocky Mountain Shakedown).

Fred “Virgil” Turgis


Brian Setzer Orchestra (the) – S/T

Hollywood Records – HR-61565-2 [1994]
Lady Luck – Ball And Chain – Sittin’ On It All The Time – Good Rockin’ Daddy – September Skies – Brand New Cadillac – There’s A Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder – Route 66 – Your True Love – A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square – Straight Up – Drink That Bottle Down

he idea of ​​the Brian Setzer Orchestra came into being in 1992, shortly after the Stray Cats broke up. The group’s origin dates back to when Michael Accosta, saxophonist and Setzer’s neighbour, invited him to participate in a jam session. If this invitation had a slight air of defiance (“Can this rocker play Jazz?“), it is to forget a little quickly that Setzer learned the guitar with Ray Gogarty. That day, Setzer had a revelation and imagined a large orchestra led by a Rock’n’Roll guitarist. But you have to think big, and the guitarist assembles a big band of sixteen musicians. He pays for the rehearsals out of his own pocket because he believes in his project. The first concerts are in front of a sparse audience, but Setzer is sure his idea is good, and it will end up paying, even if, for the moment, it costs him. And indeed, after a while, something happens. Word of mouth works, concerts attract more people, and finally, the record companies move too.
Finally, Hollywood, a Disney subsidiary, signed the group.
At the end of 1993, the Brian Setzer Orchestra takes over the legendary Capitol studios to record its first album with Al Schmitt (who worked with Henry Mancini, Rosemary Clooney, Lena Horne, Harry James, Ray Charles) behind the recording console. In retrospect, this album is interesting in more ways than one. At the head of his orchestra, Setzer is still looking for his sound and exploring the paths available. Some tracks play the big band card with a strong influence from the 60s, notably from the orchestras of Quincy Jones or Sammy Davis Jr (Lady Luck, Route 66). At other times he opts for a more Jump Blues orchestration (Good Rockin’ Daddy, Sittin’ On It All The Time). Sometimes he plays it safe and returns to familiar territory by covering Brand New Cadillac (Vince Taylor) or Your True Love (Carl Perkins). Paradoxically, it is on these numbers that the identity of the orchestra is forged: a rock’n’roll guitar in front of a big band. The guitar, let’s talk about it! With this group, Setzer can give free rein to his knowledge and his love of Jazz, as with this superb reinvention of Drink That Bottle Down. And when he rubs shoulders with his idol Bobby Darin, it’s also the revelation of a great singer, something we tended to forget or took to the background with the Stray Cats. There’s A Rainbow Round My Shoulder, A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square and his composition September Sky are magnificent.
So even if he sometimes seems hesitant or a little lost without the defined framework of the Stray Cats (as he might have been at the time of The Knife Feels Like Justice), Setzer still demonstrates that he knows how to reinvent himself with brio.
Note that the Japanese edition contains a version of Stray Cat Strut as a bonus.

Fred “Virgil” Turgis

Brian Setzer’s official website.
Surfdog’s records official website.

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