Set 'Em Up Joe: Set 'Em Up Joe
Forget the labels – this is many things. Like much of the Nouveau Swing, this owes a lot to jump blues and the small-group style of Louis Jordan. Other tracks remind you of early rock, or of “naughty” songs from the ‘Forties. On top of it all is vocalist Greg Mangus, who manages to “sing hip” without sounding like a lounge singer – not easy. Every tune is an original, and most capture the time with remarkable skill. It’s quite a feat a feat: they truly walk the walk – and in wingtips!
The opener, “Zoot Suit”, hits you hard with tough riffs and extra horns. You get “Sing Sing Sing” drums, stabbing horns, and a delicious vocal. “When you see him drive by with a big cheroot/ Don’t forget to shout “Hey, Mr. Zoot Suit!” Saxman Chris Creviston has a laid-back sound, a gentle groan urged on by the chorus. Guitarist Mark Cally has a modern solo, complete with Wes chords – and it works. It’s uptown strut and its struttinest.
“(Let Me) Cater Your Next Affair” is a wink-and-nudge song, with a great leering vocal. Mangus specializes in “gourmet sin”, and this dish is spicy in the old sense. “She Can’t Dance” takes us into Jordan territory with Cally and Creviston shining bright. But the words are the star: “She can cut you down with just one glance/ But forget about her Joe, ‘cause she can’t dance.” “Oh, but YOU can!” says Mangus as the guitar takes off.
“We move a bit forward – “Gino Goes Wild” is ‘Fifties story rock, only Lieber and Stoller were never this torrid. Maria drives Gino wild, and he can’t see her designs – he’s too busy seeing her thigh. With “Old Life Back” the big band returns, and it might be Gino singing this. “Well, the things I took for granted are what I dream of now/ I want my old life back.” Mangus shouts “Play the blues”, and the trombone does – and an accordion too! The is the highlight, and shine it does.
“I Wanna Have Fun” describes this well, as does Mangus’ opening: “It’s Ring-Ring-a-Ding time!” This hymn to hedonism has a great feel and a familiar tune (sounds like the middle part of “You Never Give Me Your Money.”) Mangus’ pursuit of pleasure is engaging and unrepentant – he says “I ain’t a nun”, but I kinda figured that out. “Hit Me with a Hotdog” has a traffic noise, knowing sax, and low-budget cool. It’s the familiar “no place like home” riff, but with a sardonic eye: “Let’s talk about the Yankees; go on swearing in my ear!” “Winsome, Lose Some” is a tongue twister of a song; Creviston gets a great gnarled solo, and Cally’s is nice. It’s a little too fast, but it has its charm. “Brooklyn Hearted” is a sad slice of the naked city, with full band and total misery. “She’ll stash you with her eyes and drown in her hair.” The words are especially clever and Mangus’ interjections are priceless. At this the album ends, and it leaves you smiling, even through all the sadness.
Record Label: Daddy-O/Royalty Records
Style: Fringes of Jazz