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Album: Setzer Goes Instru-Mental! (Surfdog Records, 2011) by Brian Setzer

One could argue that rockabilly music is the ultimate American music form since it is a hybrid of several typical American forms of music. Blues and rhythm and blues are of big influence of course. That’s where the beat came from and rockabilly guitar would be distinctively different without the minor pentatonic and blues scales. Jazz is important, particularly for the more sophisticated players like Gene Vincent’s guitarist Cliff Gallup. Most of the rockabilly pioneers grew up singing gospels. Just listen to the “Million Dollar Quartet Sessions” and you will understand why gospel has been of importance for the development of rockabilly. Country music in its various forms has obviously had a big impact on rockabilly. Amongst the heroes of Elvis Presley’s guitar player Scotty Moore are country guitar giants like Merle Travis and Chet Atkins. For later rockabilly artists like the Cramps and the Reverend Horton Heat surf music is an influence as well.

Brian Setzer is a player who is very much aware of these roots. Over the years he has shown continuously that he can pay homage to his predecessors while giving his music a twist of its own. His latest album “Setzer Goes Instru-Mental!” is no different and it shows where he came from. It starts off with “Blue Moon of Kentucky”, Bill Monroe’s bluegrass classic. A fitting song to start the album since this was the first song Elvis recorded at Sun Studios (save for the recordings he made privately). The version here derives mostly from Elvis. After all, Bill Monroe’s original version was a waltz. This is not the only tune that has a bluegrass taste to it. Brian Setzer also plays the Earl Scruggs banjo-classic “Earl’s Breakdown”. Setzer alternately plays a banjo and his guitar during this tune. The banjo solo is true to Earl Scruggs. For the first guitar solo Setzer starts off fingerpicking but get twangier along the way and ends with some lightning fast licks. The next guitar part has a jazzier feel. In fact, it could have been Django Reinhardt playing. Brian Setzer’s mastery of various styles is such that if I would not know better I’d think there are three different soloists on this track. Major stuff. Setzer is no stranger to other types of country either. For example, on the album Setzer shows off his Travis pickin’ skills on “Pickpocket” and other songs. Brian Setzer must have felt satisfaction doing an instrumental version of “Be-Bop-A-Lula” since Cliff Gallup who played the original, is one of his biggest examples. Like Cliff Gallup Setzer loves jazz and it shows on this album. The jazz standard “Cherokee”, written by Ray Noble and performed by loads of artists ranging from Charlie Parker to Danny Gatton, is played by Setzer with authority. Next to “Cherokee”, the tunes “Lonesome Road”, “Far Noir East”, “Intermission” and “Hillbilly Jazz Meltdown” show he’s got his jazz chops down while at the same time is able to add something to the large jazz canon. The last three tunes are originals by Brian Setzer by the way. “Go-Go Godzilla” has a surf flavor to it while “Hot Love” is a bit more of a rocker although there are traces of Dick Dale in this tune as well. The album is loaded with nice little surprising licks and chords and sounds very fresh. I suspect Brian Setzer had a lot of fun making it. “Setzer Goes Instru-Mental!” is definitely a keeper which can be listened to multiple times.

Frederick von Schtupp

Rating: 8 out of 10