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 compilationsThe Best of CollectionChristmas 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.
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.
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