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Music Review: Brian Setzer – Setzer Goes Instru-MENTAL

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If there is one thing that can be said about Brian Setzer, it’s that he is never boring. Whether with the rockabilly sound of the Stray Cats, the jazzy jump boogie of his big band, or the varied explorations of his solo releases, he has produced creative and excellent music for over 30 years.

He first came to fame as the guitarist and lead singer for the commercially successful Stray Cats during the 1980s. He next formed his own big band, which gave him an outlet for excursions into jazz and classic big-band music of the 1930’s and 1940’s. The Stray Cats have reunited a number of times over the past ten years and he remains active with his big band.

In his spare time he has released eight solo albums. The latest is Setzer Goes Instru-MENTAL. As the title suggests, it is an album of instrumentals. Setzer keeps it simple, placing the focus on his guitar and, on a couple of tracks, banjo playing. The only backing musicians are upright bassist Johnny Hatton and drummer Noah Levy.

The album is a difficult one to pigeonhole. Setzer fuses bluegrass, rock, rockabilly, and even surf music all together, leaving his indelible stamp upon the resulting mixture. It is also a different type of guitar album. There are no Clapton or Beck imitations, nor are there any heavy metal or hard rock pyrotechnics. Setzer channels the likes of Link Wray, Dick Dale, and the Ventures. As such, it falls into a niche that may not please everyone, but those who appreciate the guitar should enjoy it.

Setzer covers two classic bluegrass songs so well and creatively, I would like to see him release a whole album of this type of music. Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” and Earl Scruggs’ “Earl’s Breakdown” find him fusing rock and bluegrass in a way that has rarely been attempted. He even proves adept on the banjo, an unexpected treat for this listener.

In addition, he covers Ray Nobles’s “Cherokee” and Gene Vincent’s “Be-Bop-A-Lula,” which closely reflect his rockabilly roots.

There are six original compositions. “Hot Love” has a raw, surf-guitar sound reminiscent of the early Ventures. “Far Noir East” is dark and ominous, sounding like it’s coming out of a smoky lounge late at night. “Go-Go Godzilla,” which appears in the film Soul Surfer, is another throwback to the 1960s surf scene.

Setzer Goes Instru-MENTAL is yet another piece of guitar heaven courtesy of Mr. Brian Setzer, its strength resulting from its variety and virtuosity. In short, this album is a guitar masterpiece.

About David Bowling