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The Brian Setzer Orchestra: Christmas Comes Alive

C. Michael Bailey By

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Track review of "Angels We Have Heard on High"

Since 1994, former Stray Cats' guitarist Brian Setzer has led his own big band, specializing in a hybrid of rock and swing that was thought to have died with Bill Haley and the Comets. Also since that time, Setzer has made a cottage industry of playing holiday music with his big band, releasing Boogie Woogie Christmas (Surfdog Records, 2002), Dig That Crazy Christmas (Surfdog Records, 2005), and two compilations—The Best of Collection—Christmas Rocks (Surfdog, 2008), and Ultimate Christmas CollectionSurfdog Records, 2008). Changing gears, Setzer records seasonal music with his big band from the road in Knoxville, Tennessee. The results are both predictable and exciting.

One of Setzer's most successful arrangements is of "Angels We Have Heard on High." Setzer combines Dick Dale surf guitar with Buddy Holly's driving "Peggy Sue" rhythm to provide the juggernaut propelling this most over-the-top Christmas carol into hyperbole of the ilk of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. The difference between Setzer's band and the TSO is one of sincerity. Where TSO represents all of the overblown classical pretension of the last 30 years, the Setzer big band recalls the simpler time 30 years before that. Setzer's guitar is on fire as he spars with both his horn section and chorus for attention in this crowed performance. This is Christmas cheer full of nitroglycerin. If there is a Christmas party album, let it be Christmas Comes Alive.

Personnel: Brian Setzer: vocals, guitar; Eric Morones, Matthew Zebley: flute, alto saxophone; Charlie Peterson: clarinet, baritone saxophone; Jim Youngstrom: bass clarinet, tenor saxophone; Tim Messina: tenor saxophone; Ron Blake , Sean Billings, Steve Reid , Jamie Hovorka: trumpet; Mike Briones, Kerry Loeschen, Jeremy Levy: trombone; Robbie Hioki: bass trombone; Tony Pia: drums; Leslie Smith, Julie Reiten, John Hatton: background vocals.

Title: Christmas Comes Alive | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Surfdog Records


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