Every so often you need to get out of your musical comfort zone. If you find yourself always going back to folk rock of the ‘60s, you should mix it up with some modern R&B or something totally opposite of what your mainstay is. While I listen to just about everything, there are certain genres I simply don’t get to all that often. If you get in you own musical rut, you should give today’s band a try.
Brian Setzer was born in April of 1959 in Massapequa, New York. At the age of 20 he fronted a rockabilly (a country blend of blues and R&B) called The Tomcats. After little success performing in New York and Philly, in 1980 the group decided to go to London where they believed more people would appreciate their style. They sold all their gear for one-way plane tickets across the pond—and upon their arrival changed their name to the Stray Cats because of their journey. After seeing success in the U.K. and the states, the band broke up in 1984—but would be on and off through the early ‘90s.
During the band’s off periods, Setzer tried his hand in releasing a few solo albums. He completely changed his sound to more of an Americana Rock like Springsteen or Cougar Mellencamp. After not gaining much traction, he decided to go in a much different direction. In 1990, Setzer organized an orchestra, styled as a big band including full sections of trumpet, trombone and sax players. Accompanied by a rhythm section with Setzer on guitar and vocals, they were shooting for a swing revival—and they didn’t miss.
After playing in the L.A. area for a while, they were signed to Hollywood Records. Because a big band styling had never been led by a guitar, they thought the unique sound would lead to huge popularity. After their first two albums saw modest success, they released The Dirty Boogie in June of 1998. Following ads by the clothing store Gap, the single “Jump Jive an’ Wail” would go on to become the feature of the record. The commercial and the band are credited to the swing revival movement of the late ‘90s through mid-2000’s.
A mix of originals songs and covers from the ‘50s, the album is a modern take on an old classic sound. The roots of the album are legit. The band was certainly committed to keeping the majority of the composition the same, just with their modern twist. Even the cover art is a throwback to some popular art of the ‘50s—the ink linework and cut rubylith sheet style.
From a personal standpoint, this was such a departure to what I was listening to in the late ‘90s, it was hard to not at least give it a shot. Bands like Setzer Orchestra or Squirrel Nut Zippers found themselves a following simply by dancing to the beat of their own drummer—err, horn section in those days—and there’s nothing wrong with that. The band is still doing shows today, which speaks to the staying power of making music that isn’t Top 40.
Most people reading this probably haven’t listened to swing music in decades. For that sake alone, give this one a go today. For $5 bucks, even if you listen to it once and let it sit another 10 years, it’s totally worth it.
Top 3 Tracks: