The swing revival is today’s up-to-the-minute news, but has been gaining momentum for quite some time. Brian Setzer formed his big band in 1992 as an alternative choice for folks who have the time and energy to fill their leisure hours with more than just one activity. He defines a "Kustom Lifestyle" as pertaining to one who consistently seeks to explore the roads less-traveled, the things most people overlook, the unsung heroes of the world. Combining his rock and roll singing style, which matches electric guitar accompaniment with a backing studio band, Setzer has put together a session that honors some of the music largely forgotten throughout an era of popular music that has gone from Elvis to The Beatles, Chicago, ABBA, Nirvana, Madonna, Blondie, Prince, and the Spice Girls. Using music that derives primarily from the Louis Jordan jump blues era, Setzer appeals to a broad spectrum of listeners. Those of us who have grown up with television are quite familiar with the clean sound of a studio orchestra, so the backing he employs is not too far removed from our everyday tastes. However, care must be taken in how we use the term big band. Not that their talents go completely unnoticed, but this 17-piece band functions solely as a mere background voice in support of the singing of leader Brian Setzer. Interludes are supplied by Setzer’s electric guitar.
The one instrumental number, "Sleepwalk," takes on a ‘50s-slow-dance-with-lead-guitar mood to invite nostalgia. Each of the other tracks brings the listener a lyric message intended to entertain Setzer’s audience; he wrote 4 of the 13 songs in 1998. With an emphasis on the singing, guitar interludes are typically limited to about 20 seconds each. Likewise, the band members’ solo spots are brief. There’s a lively uncredited tenor sax solo spot in "Let’s Live It Up" and a similar spotlight on "Nosey Joe." "Hollywood Nocturne" begins with a deep melodic statement from the baritone saxophonist and features a sweet & lovely alto saxophone solo at midstream. The artist has Steve Fowler’s distinctive sound but is not credited. "Rock This Town" includes superb arranging, evidenced by the saxophone section’s lush blend, the trombone section’s sliding, and the trumpet section’s high wall of sound, followed by Bernie Dresel’s extended jazz/rock drum solo.
The two session highlights employ additional singers to work with Brian Setzer: "You’re The Boss" and "Louis Prima’s "Jump Jive an’ Wail." Gwen Stefan is the perfect vocal match for Setzer, as they trade and converse the song’s romantic message. The baritone saxophone bottom and muted trumpet fill are simply added spices that complement well. Eddie Nichols and Meghan Ivey shine brightly on the 2nd highlight. Like The Manhattan Transfer, Nichols and Ivey blend their accurate and spirited vocal lines with Setzer’s to produce a highly enjoyable result. Recommended.
Personnel: Brian Setzer- guitar, vocals; Ray Herrmann, Tim Musica, Steve Marsh, Rick Rossi, Don Roberts- saxophone; Dan Fornero, John Fumo, Kevin Norton, Dennis Farias- trumpet; George McMullen, Michael Vlatkovich, Mark Jones, Robbie Hioki- trombone; Ernie Nunez, Tony Garnier- bass; Bernie Dresel- drums, percussion; Gwen Stefan- vocal on "You