There’s no hep cat hipper than a hot rod guitar picker; yes sir, he’s back, the undisputed king of rockabilly and testosterone-fuelled rock’n’roll guitar, Mr Brian Setzer. In a changing world there cannot be many things more constant than the recorded and live output of this elaborately coiffured gent whose attitude of mind is firmly tuned to the summer of 1958; where jukeboxes in roadside diners are still blasting out the latest releases from a host of competing record labels and the 45s are being rotated quicker than the short-order chef can flip burgers for a procession of teenage American living in a seemingly more carefree world. If those necking kids could have looked into the future and seen the time when a lying con man somehow ended up in the White House they may have decided to put their foot down on Deadman’s curve and leave town in a blaze of glory, rather than stick around and witness the future first hand. The world’s changed a lot since those days but if a time machine whisked those teenagers from their soda bar into the present day they would surely feel right at home if they tuned in to this new set of numbers. If you forget his contributions to the Stray Cats’ album “40” from a couple of year’s back, this is the guitarist’s first new material for 7 years (all the songs are written by Setzer or in collaboration with other writers, principally Mike Himelstein).
The good news is that it’s been worth the wait. You knew that already of course, as this guy never puts a foot wrong. Not only can he tear it up on guitar with precise abandon but his vocals are effortlessly on the money. The collection is slicker than the tail fin of a freshly waxed chevvy and, rarer than a mint condition Gretsch Silver Jet from ’58, full of excellent songs that reflect the drive and style of the golden era of rock’n’roll.
Opener “Checkered Flag” sets the scene immediately with pounding drums and a jumping bass line, over which the main man plays some heavily reverbed low down Duane Eddy style single notes; “Your Daddy say’s that I’m no good, he don’t know what’s under my hood” and so on. Unlike most geezers who set sail under the rockabilly flag Setzer doesn’t rotate around an endless 12 bar cycle but, while keeping all the feel of straight-out rockers, introduces a much richer musical palette into the mix. So, on the pre-chorus there’s an added infectious melody over rising chords as he sings: ”She’s looking like the cover of a hot rod mag, baby’s dressed up in a checkered flag, all souped up and ready to drag…”. Descriptive lyrics, imaginative arrangement and a rocking beat, perfect!
“Smash up on Highway One” is introduced by a guitar playing a middle eastern-influenced motif, after which punchy chords come in, going through multiple changes echoed by the driving toms of the drums. “Stack My Money” is classic rockabilly, sounding like a Carl Perkins number you somehow missed. The guitar solo and all the gorgeous licks throughout are a study for any aspiring guitarist to stand back and admire.
“The Wrong Side of the Tracks” is another rockabilly noir tale of a hot dame and references “Runaway Boys” in a cheeky tribute to his own past. “Drip Drop” is a lightweight but fun homage to those rock’n’roll records that featured girl group backing vocals responding to the singer (imagine The Ponytails backing The Diamonds), “The Cat with 9 Wives” is a witty rocker that Eddie Cochran would have been proud of. So it continues, music that brings a smile to the face, makes you think again about whether you’re too old for a leather jacket and generally puts a spring in the step.
The closing track “Rockabilly Banjo” demonstrates the guitarist’s versatility with a rollicking country ditty, that is slightly out of place but more than welcome all the same. It’ll probably never happen but if the guitarist decided to give rockabilly a rest for a while and swapped his hot rod for a pick-up truck, he could undoubtedly knock out one fresh slice of country pie. In the meantime, enjoy what is one of this legendary guitarist’s finest solo albums.
Bluesdoodles rating: 4 Doodle Paws – A wonderful album. The collection is slicker than the tail fin of a freshly waxed chevvy and, rarer than a mint condition Gretsch Silver Jet from ’58, full of excellent songs that reflect the drive and style of the golden era of rock’n’roll.
1. Checkered Flag
2. Smash Up On Highway One
3. Stack My Money
4. The Wrong Side Of The Tracks
5. Drip Drop
6. The Cat With 9 Wives
7. Turn You On, Turn Me On
8. Rockabilly Riot
9. Off Your Rocker
10. One Bad Habit
11. Rockabilly Banjo