Brian Setzer

Avr 6th, 2016 | By | Category: Albums, Contemporary artists, Reviews, S
Brian Setzer - The Knife feels like justice

Brian Setzer – The Knife feels like justice

Brian Setzer – The Knife feels like Justice

EMI [1986]
The Knife Feels Like Justice – Haunted River – Boulevard Of Broken Dreams – Bobby’s Back – Radiation Ranch – Chains Around Your Heart – Maria – Three Guys – Aztec – Breath Of Life – Barbwire Fence

In 1984, Setzer came to a point in his career where he felt too limited with the labels « Rockabilly » and « Guitar Hero » sticked to him. He wanted to show and prove he was more than a Grestch guy who sings about Cadillacs an Pin-Ups. With a more ambitious vision in mind he parted way with the Stray Cats and reinvented himself as a heartland rocker (on a side note it was also the beginning of the mullet period). He was helped in this process by Don Gehman the man behind the sound of John Mellencamp’s Scarecrow and, according to his own words, by a « real band » (understand two guitars, a full drumkit, a keyboard and an electric bass) including members of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, Kenny Aronoff (John Mellencamp) and Tommy Byrnes who was for a brief period the fourth Stray Cats.
After an apparition at the first Farm Aid, the debut album from the « new » Setzer was released in 1986. If the result is not entirely convincing and really sounds dated by moment (especially that typical 80’s drums sound), the curious and open-minded listener will find a couple of good things.
The title track opens brillantly the disc and sets the pace (though the lyrics are still obscure to me). « Bobby’s Back » is a dip into R&B (via MTV) and was already present in the Stray Cats setlist in 1984, as is « Barbwire Fence » another highlight of the album. « Radiation Ranch » is a solid rocker based upon a simple but efficient guitar riff, later recycled to write « Drive Like Lightning (Crash Like Thunder) » more than ten years later.
But the real good surprises come from « Aztec » (co-written with Heartbreakers’ Mike Campbell) and « Maria » (another collaboration, this time with Steve Van Zandt) both with a strong social comment revealing a new side of Setzer. Even though some stuff is just average, the whole album remains coherent. But Setzer didn’t pursue in this way and without a clear vision of what to do of his « freedom » (without a pre-definite musical genre) he oriented himself toward FM rock on the catastrophic « Live Nude Guitar », but this is another story.


Brian Setzer Collection 81-88

Brian Setzer Collection 81-88

Brian Setzer – Brian Setzer Collection 81-88

EMI
(She’s) Sexy + 17 – Rock This Town – Summertime Blues – The Knife Feels Like Justice – Boulevard Of Broken Dreams – Echo Park – When The Sky Comes Tumblin’ Down – Cross Of Love – Every Tear That Falls – Thing About You – Waitin’ For Desiree – Bobby’s Back – Keep Your Lovin’ Strong – Living Souls – The Rain Washed Everything Away – I Won’t Stand In Your Way – Runaway Boys – Chains Around Your Heart
EMI released this compilation album when, call that a coincidence, Setzer was toping the charts with his 17-piece big band and the excellent Dirty Boogie album.
Chances are the newly converted to the sound of the Orchestra might have been surprised by the stuff included in that album. With the exception of four Stray Cats songs that sound a bit out a place, the songs date from a period when Setzer tried to reinvent himself as a serious rocker closer to Tom Petty, John Mellencamp or Bruce Springsteen. Nothing wrong with that, and despite a production that sounds terribly dated now,  there’s a lot of good things on the two albums recording during that era (the Knife Feels Like Justice and Live Nude Guitar) but they lacked of that little something that made the difference with the Stray Cats or his later solo stuff.
What really makes this compilation worthwile, especially for Setzer hardcore fans, are the the B-sides  and the many unreleased outtakes, some being very good like the Springteen-esque Waiting For Desiree. Some of the songs from that period (Cross of Love and Thing About You) would later be recorded by the Stray Cats. It also includes the version of Summertime Blues than the one recorded for the movie La Bamba.


Brian Setzer - Rockabilly Riot a Tribute to Sun records

Brian Setzer – Rockabilly Riot a Tribute to Sun records

Brian Setzer – Rockabilly Riot Vol. 1 A Tribute To Sun Records

Surfdog Records 44068-2 [2005]
Red Hot – Slow Down – Real Wild Child – Rockhouse – Put Your Cat Clothes On – Lonely Weekends – Get It Off Your Mind – Just Because – Glad All Over – Flatfoot Sam – Rock N Roll Ruby – Blue Suede Shoes – Tennessee Zip – Mona Lisa – Peroxide Blonde (In A Hopped Up Model Ford) – Get Rhythm – Stairway To Nowhere – Boppin’ The Blues – Rakin’ & Scrapin’ – Sweet Woman – Flyin’ Saucers Rock N Roll – Lonely Wolf – Red Cadillac & A Black Moustache

Brian Setzer’s  idea for this album is simple, and lays in the title, it’s a tribute to the greatest rockabilly label, the one that started it all: Sun records.
One can wonder what the use of recording such a record, especially with tracks like Blue Suede Shoes, Boppin’ the Blues, Just Because and Red Hot. Setzer claims that he made it to introduce these songs to a new generation. Well, this is a noble cause, so let’s give him credit for that, and we know that he didn’t make it for money, NOBODY makes money with rockabilly.
The recording itself is very good. What you have is a very inspired Brian Setzer, and if you want to compare to another all cover album it’s far better than Stray Cats’ Original Cool. His voice is very strong and it goes without saying that his guitar play is top notch. Though the fans of his flashy style could be deceived, Setzer serves the songs rather than his own glory. He’s perfectly supported by Mark Winchester on double bass and Bernie Dresel on drums (the best rhythm section Setzer ever worked with) and Kevin McKendree adds a solid pumping piano to the ensemble. Even the Jordanaires join in on a couple of songs. They remain very faithful to the original versions which is both a strenghth and a failing. Sure there’s no betrayal, and if you dig the originals you’ll like Setzer’s but in the end this album lacks of originality (which is often the case with tribute albums). At leats it proves that Rockabilly and Rock’n’roll are the kind of music that Setzer plays the best.
One last thing: I still wonder why this album has been recorded in Nashville instead of Sun studio? The liner notes also surprised me when I read Setzer saying “Isn’t it funny how modern rockabilly rarely incorporates acoustic guitar”. Give me a call Brian, I have some records you really should listen.


Brian Setzer - Red Hot & Live

Brian Setzer – Red Hot & Live

Brian Setzer – Red Hot & Live

Surfdog Records  [2007]
Red Hot – This Cat’s On A Hot Tin Roof – Get It Off Your Mind – Slow Down – Put Your Cat Clothes On – Take A Chance On Love – Broken Down Piece of Junk – Peroxide Blonde (In A Hopped Up Model Ford) – Tennessee Zip – Mini Bar Blues – Runaway Boys – Stray Cat Strut – Rocket Cathedrals – Fishnet Stockings – Rock This Town – Gene & Eddie

To be honest, although I’m a huge Setzer fan I didn’t really know what to expect with this live album recorded in 2006 in Japan with Robbie Chevrier on piano, Ronnie Crutcher on bass and the great Bernie Dresel on drums.
On one hand the idea of an album made for one third of Setzer classics heard many times before on live records (both official and bootlegs), one third from the pleasant but not very original “Tribute to Sun Records” and the remaining third from the highly disappointing “ 13” had nothing to excite me.
On the other hand I was more than curious to hear those classics played with a new arrangement with piano or a second guitar (a configuration not used by Brian Setzer since The Knife Feels Like Justice era 20 years ago) and maybe the tunes from “ 13” would sound better on live than on the studio takes.
And I must admit that once again, Setzer caught me.
This album is nothing less than excellent. It manages to capture perfectly the excitment of the live performance, and it’s amazing how much a piano or a second guitar can change the sound compared to the trio format. The sound is full and pure rock’n’roll. The Rockabilly/Sun tunes are all excellent with sparkling guitar and real rockabilly piano courtesy of Robbie Chevrier. What could sound sterile on record takes here its real dimension, one of the best exemple being “Put Your Cat Clothes On”. The songs from “ 13” sound raw and good when they are played live with this this line-up, especially the glam “Rocket Cathedrals” (do I hear a electric bass on this one?) and the instrumental tour de force “Mini Bar Blues” quoting Les Paul and Jimmie Bryant.
But the real surprise to come from this album is the way they inject new life in those classics that are “Stray Cat Strut”, “Runaway Boys” (one of the best version I heard and believe me I have quite a few bootlegs) and “Rock This Town” which starts like a good ol’ boogie woogie to quickly evolve into a pure rock’n’roll gem.
This album proves (if needed) that when he doesn’t waste his talent in Christmas albums or pre-marketed album for Japanese audience, Setzer can rock like nobody else.


Brian Setzer goes Instru-mental

Brian Setzer goes Instru-mental

Brian Setzer – Setzer Goes Instru-Mental

Surfdog 233291 [2011]
Blue Moon Of Kentucky – Cherokee – Be-Bop-A-Lula – Earl’s Breakdown – Far Noir East – Intermission – Go-Go Godzilla – Lonesome Road – Hillbilly Jazz Meltdown – Hot Love – Pickpocket

Well, fine, Brian Setzer is a damn good picker but how I wish I could have loved this album more. This is not bad but it just sounds like a missed opportunity.

Some songs are just quick reworking of classics that Setzer plays for years and really don’t bring anything to his glory. Seriously who wants to hear another version of Blue Moon Of Kentucky or Be Bop A Lula, even by Brian Setzer? And when he picks his banjo you can expect something new, why not a real bluegrass number with mandolin or dobro or whatever. Instead of that what you have is a clean (in the sense of « sterile ») version of Earl’s Breakdown a song he plays live since 1983. Cherokee is a bit better but reveals the major flaw of the album: its production. The sound is way too clean, totally disembodied and for the most part evokes a cd one can find with guitar methods. And the lack of interaction between the rhythm section and the solist doesn’t help either. Let’s quickly forget Go-Go Godzilla that sounds like a self-parody to concentrate on the few good numbers of the albums. « Far Noir East » seems to have been written for the Brian Setzer Orchestra album « Songs From Lonely Avenue » like a cross between Harlem Nocturne and the Stray Cats little known jewel Jade Idol. Intermission is really jazzy, with a strong Charlie Christian feel and a guest vibraphonist and you regret that there aint no more guests on this album to enhance the final result. For example Lonesome Road is really good too, more or less in the Jimmy Bryant style and it’s too bad that there is not a guest steel guitar on that tune (or why not, Setzer on both as we all know that he plays steel too). And though enjoyable, the remaining songs seems to have been improvised on the spot around a single riff.
It seems that this is not this time that my dream to hear him do an instrumental album with a small jazz combo will come true.


Brian Setzer - Rockabilly Riot! Live from the Planet

Brian Setzer – Rockabilly Riot! Live from the Planet

Brian Setzer – Rockabilly Riot! Live from the Planet

Surfdog 253147 [2012]
Ignition – ’49 Mercury Blues – This Cat’s On A Hot Tin Roof – Drive Like Lightning (Crash Like Thunder) – 8-Track – Slow Down / Folsom Prison Blues – Put Your Cat Clothes On – Blue Moon of Kentucky – Pickpocket – Rumble in Brighton – Runaway Boys – Cry Baby – Great Balls Of Fire – Red Hot – Seven Nights to Rock

Though his recent studio albums vary in quality, Brian Setzer remains one of the top rockabilly acts when on stage. His latest live album, recorded during a tour that took him, two drummers (including Slim Jim Phantom), tow bassists and a pianist from Europe to Australia with Japan and North America in between is another proof, if needed that he’s still the king of modern rockabilly.

The first good surprise comes from the set-list. Setzer has dropped songs like Stray Cat Strut, Gene & Eddie and Rock This Town to make room to rare covers (Great Balls Of Fire, Seven Nights To Rock) or lesser played songs like Cry Baby or 49 Mercury Blues, the latter in a trio version way more powerful than the studio version with the Orchestra. Two songs from his latest release (Instru-Mental) are also included and though I had major reserves about the studio versions, they take all their sense on stage (partially due to the excellent recording work). the other good surprise is simply the performance. You have to go back to Ignition in 2001 to find him in such a good form. The band is tight and Setzer’s playing is inspired and creative and what you hear is a band that works together, not a singer/guitarist and a backing band. This is particularly audible on Slow Down/Folsom Prison Blues on which you can hear the pleasure that Setzer has to trade licks with Kevin McKendree on acoustic guitar. An excellent album from start to finish, more than that a lesson of Rock’n’roll.
Rock This Town, Stray Cat Strut, Sexy & 17 and Fishnet Stockings are available in mp3 format.

Fred « Virgil » Turgis



 

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One Comment to “Brian Setzer”

  1. […] The Stray Cats was deeply involved in his solo stuff. Setzer had released his first solo album “The Knife Feels Like Justice” in a John Cougar vein at the beginning of the year and Lee and Jim teamed with David Bowie’s […]