Review Summary: Eine Kliene Rock Music
Cover versions are hard animals to tame and get them to do what you want with success. The Puppini Sisters really struggled to keep their musical monster awake and active on their latest effort ‘Hollywood’, which I reviewed as “slog” to get through. But that album reminded me of another all covers album that hunted out very well known songs and yet roars like a panther without actually mauling you; just roughs you up a bit to let you know who is king of the swing jungle: ‘Wolfgang’s Big Night Out’ by The Brian Setzer Orchestra.
Most people who have heard, or heard of, The Brian Setzer Orchestra know it swings but that is not quite how I would describe it to the uninitiated. I like to think of The Brain Sezter Orchestra like Harry Connick Jr. plugged into the zombies of Eddie Cochran and Duane Eddy via Dr. Frankestein. If you want your dinner party to swing sentimental you put on Harry. If you want your dinner party to become a raucous, rowdy, rambunctious, wild untamed jungle cat and swing at the same time, you put on Setzer.
Brian Sezter has covered LOTS of songs before with his orchestra, mainly swing standards and his own Stray Cats work but here he turns classical music, which was the punk of its day, into the swing-rockabilly-blues-punk of today. The reason this all works so well, aside from Setzer being a master guitar player and orchestrator is the material he has to work with. Those decomposing composers didn’t hang onto bad songs like we do today. So classical music has the benefit of already being more or less musically good to start with AND it hasn’t been covered much by non classical orchestras. Unlike the old war horse ‘Over The Rainbow’ or the most covered song in history ‘Summertime’. It wouldn’t take much to make these composers sound new and different. But that doesn’t mean it is easy to do well, there have been some minor slip ups in musical history in the classical crossover to pop business venture, as when disco saw fit to turn Mussagorsky into club music on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. It isn’t bad per se but it sure is dated. And violin virtuoso Vanessa-Mae made classical hip and techno in the late 90s on a couple big selling albums but after a while the gimmick got repetitive and tired.
Which brings us to why Setzer’s work here is so great; he picks the standards (i.e. Beethoven’s 5th) but he also snatches a few from left field like ‘The Sabre Dance’ and ‘The William Tell Overture’, giving them his own play on word titles, (i.e. ‘Here Comes The Broad’). And he doesn’t just deliver them all in one rockabilly-swing note and tone. While ‘Take The 5th’ is straight up swing, ‘For Lisa’ starts out as a lilting rockabilly solo ala that 50s classic ‘Sleepwalk’ before stepping into the gypsy jazz of Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli. And it is those kind of choices that make you go, “Of course it would be gypsy swing”. “In The Hall Of The Mountain King” is one piece that has been covered extensively from the likes of The Who, ELO, Trent Reznor, and Apocalyptica but here the giant loses the loincloth and club and puts on a suit and greases back his hair. On a few tracks he even gives a wonderful wink to the audience for whom classical music may not be their favorite meal as he teases with “fake” endings before carrying on much like some symphonies seem to drag out their climaxes like the last breath of dying hero in a badly produced Greek tragedy.
Brian Setzer is one of my favorite guitar men and the surf guitar smashing of Rimsky-Korsakav’s ‘Flight Of The Bumble’ here titled ‘Honey Man’ shows off why so many actual guitarists hail Setzer as one of the masters, even if the general public only knows about Page and Clapton. As the chorus girl’s chant, “Faster, faster! Go! Go!” so Mr. Setzer goes and so does the album. When we get to the ‘Sabre Dance’, that famous melody from Khachaturian’s Gayane Ballet, it as straight up rockabilly at its loudest.
Since Brian Setzer usually swings in his signature guitar way on most of his albums it is nice to hear other influences gnawing at the music below the surface on this work. ‘Take A Breaks Guys’, his reworking of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’, has definite hallmarks of secret agent film scores of the late 60s early 70s. It sound like a track Quentin Tarentino might dig up from the vaults of exploitation films for his latest movie.
One track that really peeked my interest was, ‘Some River in Europe’ a reworking of Strauss’ ‘The Blue Danube’. I was thought this piece infamously linked to 2011would be uncoverable outside of a professional symphony, much like Lord Of The Rings was thought to be unfilmable. Yet he takes what was the beautiful carouseling waltz and spinning space station lithographed in my mind and turns into what could be seen as this love child of The Ventures and Esquivel danced by Mr. and Ms. Jetson on their wedding day.
Thinking back on the whole experience now, it really does sound like the kind of music I imagine George & Jane might jive to on a night out at the Venus Lounge; space martini in hand. And maybe I like that it sounds future retro because I, in part, was raised on ‘The Jetsons’ due to the fact the 80s ran reruns of old cartoons as it tried to find its own Saturday morning voice. But past, present, or future retro- make no mistake this album is fast, it’s ferocious, and some would argue with the raw electric guitar and big band instead of violin and symphonic orchestra touched by the monstrous paw of the devil himself.
PS: If you can get the Japanese release it has bonus tracks.
Take The 5th
Wolfgang’s Big Night Out
Some River In Europe
Take A Break Guys