Brian Setzer has been carrying the rockabilly flame since 1979, when he formed the first incarnation of the Stray Cats (then known as the Tomcats). With the Stray Cats he lead the rockabilly revival with a number of classic albums songs which paid tribute to the great rock n’ roll artists of the 50’s.
The band fell apart in the mid 80’s though and in 1990 Setzer assembled The Brian Setzer Orchestra, a 17 piece swing/jump blues band that in 1998 had a massive hit in their cover of Louis Prima’s ‘Jump, Jive an’ Wail.’
Setzer’s kept busy when not with his Orchestra though and released a handful of solo record, live albums and done a number of reunion tours with the Stray Cats.
Rockabilly Riot: All Original is Setzer’s tenth solo release since 1986. The album contains 12 songs, all of them
written by Setzer (his releases usually contain a handful of covers).
One of the things I love about Brian Setzer records, whether solo or with his other bands, is that you always know what you’re in for. He isn’t interested in rocking the musical boat or venturing off in other directions. He’s a rock and roller with the spirit of the 50’s surging through his veins and embraces that.
Rockabilly Riot starts off with the barnstormer ‘Let’s Shake’. It’s a fast little beast with pounding piano, driving Gretsch guitar and Setzer’s Carl Perkins meets Jerry Lee Lewis delivery. It’s a hell of a way to start off an album.
‘Rockabilly Blues’ is just that. A blues tune attacked by rockabilly and slathered with a coat of punky attitude. The guitar work in this track is just amazing, with Setzer waltzing all over the fretboard and back again in a dazzling display of musicianship. The rhythm section sound like a 33rpm Johnny Cash song played 45rpm’s. Exciting stuff.
‘Vinyl Records’ is about a rocker chick who likes to listen to vinyl, at one point convincing some naysayers why vinyl is still the best way to hear good music. It’s a fun and loving tribute to the magic of vinyl that’s making a comeback these days in a big way.
‘Nothing Is A Sure Thing’ which was the original title of the record, is a cool, thumping tune which again highlights the strength of the rhythm section, perfectly complementing Setzer’s impressive talent with the six string.
‘Calamity Jane’ combines rockabilly with Sun-era country and features some more of that smoking piano pounding. ‘I Should Have Had A V8’ is a hot tune about (what else) hot rods, set to a military jive.
‘The Girl With the Blue in Her Eyes’ and ‘Blue Lights, Big City’ are a couple of slower crooners more in step with Elvis’ slow stuff from his late 50’s RCA records. Elvis is never far from any rockabilly revival record and his influence is apparent throughout Rockabilly Riot. Even the colours Setzer uses for his name on the cover are the familiar pink and green that grace Elvis’ iconic self titled RCA debut.
As far as I’m concerned, the 1950’s was the greatest decade of music the world has ever seen and that probably isn’t going to change. Rock n’ roll, country, R&B. Doesn’t matter what it was, if it dropped in the 50’s, it was probably hot. Elvis and rockabilly lead that charge though and the literally endless amount of rockabilly bands and artists from the era, both popular and obscure are almost uniformly fantastic in one way or another. The rockabilly revival in the 80’s (both purist and the punk-inflected hybrid psychobilly, lead by bands like The Cramps) has been paying tribute to that decade and those artists ever since. Brian Setzer is the leader of the pack. His jump swing tunes are fun (particularly the Christmas albums), but his solo work is even better. And Rockabilly Riot is a welcome addition to his cannon.