november 2009

Brian Setzer Song From Lonely AvenueSONGS FROM LONELY AVENUE
The Brian Setzer Orchestra
Surfdog Records

Louis Jordan, Louis Prima, Fats Waller were all high-spirited jokers whose forte was not singing, per se, but inhabiting a song by the sheer force of their personality and making it musical. Brian Setzer is in that league, and if you’re saying, “Brian Setzer never wrote ‘Ain’t Misbehavin',’” you best give him time. This course he’s set for himself post-Stray Cats, and especially since he embraced the big band concept in 1994 with the Brian Setzer Orchestra, has allowed him to carve out his own niche, a place where he can exercise his love of older music—music that well predates his own birth—and challenge himself as an artist. The Orchestra has been a thoroughly delightful affair, reviving some old favorites and now, on its ninth album (which includes the 2007 gem, Wolfgang’s Big Night Out, being swing interpretations of classical masterpieces), parlaying 13 Setzer originals—the first time he’s written all the Orchestra’s material—into a big winning ticket centered on dark, malevolent doings in bad places in the dead of night, a pulp fiction musical equal parts Mickey Spillane (whose novel Kiss Me Deadly inspires a like titled song three cuts in, a smooth, pulsating track with a robust horn chart and Setzer’s flittering guitar runs, concerning a devastating moll with a wandering style) and Damon Runyon (for its wealth of unsavory urban predators). For the superb horn arrangements he teamed with the legendary arranger/writer Frank Comstock, who provided the scintillating charts on Wolfgang’s Big Night Out but moreover has, in his 87 years, worked with Benny Carter, Judy Garland, and Stan Kenton, among others, and also, to his great credit, penned the theme songs for Dragnet, The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show and Adam 12. This time out Comstock provides Setzer and Orchestra with his full arsenal of textures and moods: the delicious “Lonely Avenue” is dreamy and blue, all brush drums, soothing brass and woodwinds and silky strings, supporting Setzer’s smooth, bluesy vocal lament, a template that works equally well in the moody, malevolent “My Baby Don’t Love Me Blues,” with its scintillating mix of gutsy tenor saxes, crying trombones and lilting strings enhancing a dramatic Setzer reading; and there are plenty of moments when Comstock helps his charge step it up and go—try to the barnburning, horn-driven “Love Partners In Crime,” or, at the album’s start, the driving, sputtering horns racing along with Setzer’s spitfire guitar in “Trouble Train.” No Setzer guitar pyrotechnics, you ask? Think again. Two showcases in particular, the back-to-back “Mr. Jazzer Goes Surfin’” and “Mr. Surfer Goes Jazzin’,” allow him to, first, get into some nice textural and tonal explorations up and down the neck of his semi-hollow bodied Gibson, and, second, to remind one and all of his electrifying rock ‘n’ roll attack in the hailstorm of impeccably speed-picked runs he executes with deft, emotionally rich precision. For good measure, he signs off with “Elena,” an evocative, charged Flamenco guitar solo of competing personalities defined by the alternating Picado single-line scale passages, ruminative and introspective in temperament, contrasted by rolling, aggressive Rasgueado strumming. It’s not how you would have expected the highly cinematic Songs From Lonely Avenue to wind down, but it turns out to be a good way to exhale after all the preceding drama as the credits roll. Think of it as a stray cat that walked into the scene and found he belonged there. —David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024