Brian Setzer's back behind the wheel of a rockabilly hot rod and he's taking us all for a breathtaking drive with the trunk full of fourteen brand new tracks. After a couple of years singing about Nightingale's in Berkeley Square and Sammy Davis City, Brian is singing like it's 1981 again. The most devastating thing about the whole album is his guitar playing, which sounds better than he's ever done - and that's no mean feat!
68 Comeback Special who consist of Brian together with slap bass playing friend of the RHOF Mark Winchester, and drummer Bernie Dresel, put their feet to the floor and let rip in all but one song and even that's got a late night cruisin' past the diner feel to it.
The title track is an explosive start and although the backing vocals aren't exactly Moonglows-esque, the guitar more than compensates. 5 Years, 4 Months, 3 Days is a driving rocker influenced by Six Days On The Road.
The next couple of numbers are co-writes with Mike Himelstein, and they're both top notch car songs. Hell Bent is an atmospheric tale of dead-end racing with dynamic guitar and a relentless beat. It's a James Dean film with a Link Wray production. All it needs is for Dennis Hopper to make a cameo. It's impossible to listen to Hot Rod Girl without singing Rant 'n' Rave's, Hot Rod Gang in the chorus. 8-Track is a superb road movie song with a bouncy country beat and if the hot hillbilly pickin' ain't enuff fer y'all, he even gives us an extended yodel. This is a pick-up truck track, not a hot rod job Bob!!
Brian writes his own epitaph on '59. If you want to know what makes the man tick over, just take a listen to this. Mark Winchester joins in the fun, singing his own Rooster Rock, an excellent, macho, rockabilly tale. Santa Rosa Rita is split tempo, mixing swaying cha-cha with manicabilly.
(The Legend Of) Johnny Kool (Part 2) leaves burn marks on the asphalt, with rhythm section and guitar jelling in perfect unison. A scorching guitar solo is as demented as Johnny Kool himself, and both the man and the song come to an end, way too soon. Get 'Em On The Ropes is a far from subtle item, which probably works better live than on my CD player. Joe Strummer and Brian became friends in the early London days of the Stray Cats and have remained close buddies ever since, even going on family holidays together. They've collaborated on the plodding auto-dittie Who Would Love This Car But Me? which has some nice slide guitar, sounding in places very much like George Thorogood. His picking on Blue Cafe echoes back to his Cat days.
The only ballad on the CD is the smooth, doo-wop, curb crawler, Dreamsville. Anyone whose heard Ritchie Valens' version of Malaguena will know what to expect here. Brian and the boys play the hell out of it, and it's a fine way to end the album.
Brian Setzer has been at the front end of a rockabilly revival and a swing revival. Let's hope this is launch of a rockabilly re-revival. It's about time, and this could just be the one to do it. My wife thinks it crap and the worst thing he's ever done. Our divorce is being filed next week. I'm giving her the weekend to listen again and change her mind.
Steel a copy and go for a joy ride. Roll on October, I've got tickets for the London gig and can't wait.
In 1968, after years in a Hollywood wilderness, musically barren, and as far from his fifties flash as he could get without turning into Pat Boone, Elvis wriggled into a black leather suit and shook like he hadn't shook in years. He looked menacing again, his voice was actually tearing through the blues like only he could, and he truly looked alive. When Elvis looked piercingly into the camera, tanned and handsome, and snarled, "If you're looking for trouble", he'd finally come full circle. This was the Hillbilly Cat again, like he was back at the Eagles Nest in Memphis, 1955, captured by his own sound and knowing that he'd got everyone in the audience, trapped in his spell. When John Lennon said that Elvis died when he went into the Army, I assume he never saw this show, it must have aired during one of his love-ins. The show soon became known as the Comeback Special.
Although Brian Setzer never had a "movie years" period to regret, he has spent most of the last nine years, leading a rocking, big band, swing orchestra, a long way from the Stray Cat days, which launched his career. Although the Brian Setzer Orchestra is set to continue, he's formed a three-piece rockabilly band again, and they call themselves the '68 Comeback Special. It's a great name, given the circumstances, with Brian having now come full circle. In a rockabilly sense, it's his comeback. Apparently he came up with the name when he checked his leathered self, in the mirror prior to a show.
During BSO concerts, the Orchestra would take a break midway through the set and Brian, Mark Winchester and Bernie Dresel would play a few jumped up tunes to the delight of the crowd. This part of the show was so well received that they decided to play three shows at the end of last year. Again they went down really well, despite the fact that there was relatively little promotion for the shows. The set list features a couple of old Stray Cat tunes, a couple of unlikely revivals and a lot of new songs, all of which showed the diverse talents of the trio. They were tracks which Setzer had written for the Orchestra but didn't quite fit the sound, with a range of styles from straight ahead rockabilly to country guitar rags. On a couple of numbers Mark Winchester provides the lead vocals, including a souped up version of his own composition Would I, which had been a country hit for Randy Travis. Even better is another of his songs, the rocking Rooster Rock, which mixes cornball lyrics and some of Setzer's quickest picking.
The old trucking anthem Six Days On The Road is rewritten and rocked up as 5 Years, 4 Months, 3 Days and the crowd go wild for Johnny Kool and 8-Track. There's more hot country licks in a great hoedown version of Gentle On My Mind and the building erupts with Ignition, a dynamic hard driving hot-rod rocker and the powerful, Get 'Em On The Ropes. Brian shows his prowess on the pedal steel with the slow country instrumental, Blue Cowboy and then picks up the Gretsch and get the fingers moving for Chet Tune which he says Welsh wizard Dave Edmunds showed him.
The Gretsch and steel even make way for the banjo and together with three part harmonies, it's an eclectic rockabilly show that needs to be heard by a wider audience. Hopefully, that'll be the case because the threesome have just recorded their first album for Surfdog Records of Encinitas, California.
Set to be released on 12th June, it will be followed by a summer tour which takes in thirty-odd US cities, followed by an October tour of Europe. The details of the tour and all of the up to the minute news can be seen at Tommy Maguire's excellent, www.briansetzer.com. There's a great quote where Brian is asked if, because of the bands name, this is going to be an Elvis tribute, to which Brian responds, "Isn't all music an Elvis Presley tribute?".
If I Can Dream was the message song for Elvis' 68 Comeback, for this 68 Comeback Special it must be From '59. It's got the same beat as some of his solo albums and he introduces this autobiographical song saying, "I was born in 1959, this guitar is from 1959, my old lady's from '59, my Cadillac's from 1959. Everything I love is from 1959".
The Cat is back and we've got the cream. Lick yer lips and wait for the CD.
Photos courtesy www.briansetzer.com
Footnote: Call back here for a review of the CD once it's out, plus a review of the London gig, if I can get a ticket. I think they'll go like hot cakes.