Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Reviving the big band blues with Brian Setzer

Maintaining my resolve to keep away from CD stores is never particularly easy when 3PBS FM keep playing such great and interesting music on their Breakfast Spread programme as I drive into the station each morning and today’s offender, Songs from Lonely Avenue by the Brian Setzer Orchestra, with its wonderful big band sound of swing and blues, had the all too predictable consequences.

Even since my Road to Damascus conversion to non-classical music a few months ago, I didn’t really think that big band music would grab me terribly much but hearing the album’s title track on PBS this morning, with its gentle swing, and its modern day spotlight on the darkened streets of a film noir set, made me think that this was yet another genre that I had perhaps unfairly prejudged.

Songs from Lonely Avenue plays like a soundtrack to a 1940s Hollywood movie – the sort where crime and sex and shadows mix and mingle as music swings seductively around every corner.

But, right from the chugging, rock-along music of the opening track, ‘Trouble Train’, you know that, while the roots of this album may have been planted half a century or more ago, its blossoms are very new and fresh, with 21st century electric guitar riffs weaving their way amidst a 1950s big band brass.

You get the devil-may-care passion of ‘Kiss Me Deadly’; the smooth croon of ‘Lonely Avenue’ with its swooning strings against downbeat blues-infused brass; the laid-back Gershwinesque blues of ‘My Baby Don’t Love Me Blues’. You get the cool groove of the purely instrumental ‘Mr Jazzer goes surfin’’ and the hint of a heavier jazz-rock in ‘Mr Surfer goes jazzin’’.

The whole thing leaves you feeling very nostalgic – but listen to the stunning trumpet work in ‘Passion of the Night’, or the dazzling guitar work in ‘Elena’ and you are sure to be comforted that the best things from the past never really go away completely.

As always, 3PBS FM never fails to deliver the really precious treasures of little heard music.

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