Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Brian Setzer - Gotta Have The Rumble

“Can’t be humble, got to have the rumble,” goes the basso profundo tag line for Brian Setzer’s latest album, in opening track ‘Checkered Flag’.  The lyric is a hymn to his hot rod, and the need for it to stand out from the herd.  But just as relevant is the fact that Setzer is a guy with plenty to be humble about.
Never mind his past glories with the Stray Cats, Setzer is one of those “triple threat” geezers.  He can play rock’n’roll guitar to die for, he has a versatile, totally convincing voice, and when he
Brian Setzer - be-quiffed, be-leathered, be rockabilly
puts his mind to it he can – with a little help - write a damn good tune.  Also, he has a sense of humour.  All of these elements are evident on Gotta Have The Rumble.
I’d say there are five top tunes among the 11 on offer here.  Which is not to dismiss the rest, but just to give due credit to the real highlights.  The aforementioned ‘Checkered Flag’ sets a high bar, as rumbling bass notes combine with shivering guitar tones as Setzer rolls out a great riff, and later a great bridge.  And the following ‘Smash Up On Highway One’ is also right up there, with staccato chords set against rapido drum rolls, ahead of a cod-Arabic guitar line which forms the basis for a macabre tale of motor mortality.
‘The Wrong Side Of The Tracks’ is a cool slice of rock’n’roll embellished by some bijou bursts of strings, and swings fit to satisfy Thomas O’Malley – you know, the hip feline in The Aristocats.  (For any philistines questioning the relevance of that reference, I refer you to that other Stray Cat, Lee Rocker, who covered ‘Everybody Wants To Be A Cat’ on his recent album Gather Round.)  ‘The Cat With 9 Wives’, with its jungle drums intro, similarly swings like Tarzan on a creeper.  Okay, so the lyrics ain’t Shakespeare, but they’re still great fun, and the jazzy drumming from Victor Indrizzo and grooving bass from David Roe Rorick show a great feel for the material, just like that of Setzer himself.
‘Turn You On, Turn Me On’ is the other standout, a surging rock’n’roll rant over a Bo Diddley-ish rhythm, with a healthy quotient of wonky guitar notes and a “stick shift ready” inclination towards double-entendres.
Maybe I’m a bit mean excluding ‘Drip Drop’ from this hit list.  At first blush it sounds supremely silly, worthy of comparison with Bobby Darin’s ‘Splish Splash’ – but maybe sublimely tongue-in-cheek would be closer to the mark.  It takes a chord progression reminiscent of Neil Young’s ‘Harvest Moon’, cranks it up to double time, and adds Latino percussion to create a vibe redolent of The Mavericks, while Setzer croons away merrily, aided and abetted by backing vocals from Julie Setzer and Jennifer Goforth.  Is it cheesy, or is it genius?  You choose.
Elsewhere there’s some pretty regulation rockabilly in the form of tracks like ‘Stack My Money’ and ‘One Bad Habit’, but even these are elevated by elements like the pizzazz-laden twanging guitar work on the former, and the combination of plonking bass, ringing chords and discordant guitar breaks on the latter.
The album closes with ‘Rockabilly Banjo’, a delightfully daft specimen weaving in banjo, fiddle, and the dreaded pedal steel guitar in a bluegrass-rockabilly mash-up that may – like ‘Drip Drop’ - stretch credibility, but also demonstrates Setzer’s devil-may-care attitude.
“The past is another country,” wrote L P Hartley, “they do things differently there.”  Gotta Have The Rumble, like most of Setzer’s oeuvre, is a journey to a lost, more innocent world.  It may not be genius, it may not be contemporary, but it’s still a blast.
Gotta Have The Rumble is released by Surfdog Records on 27 August, and can be ordered here.

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