November 1998

The Brian Setzer Orchestra - The Dirty Boogie
Interscope Records INTD-90183

Released: 1998

by David Sherman

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

[Reviewed on CD]Brian Setzer has set a high standard for future pop/swing recordings very early in the swing revival movement. The artistry demonstrated on The Dirty Boogie will be hard for other current swing bands to duplicate. The Squirrel Nut Zippers, The Acme Swing Co., and Lee Press-On and the Nails are bands that provide great backgrounds for dancing, but they are late arrivals to a style that Setzer refined and perfected years ago.

On this CD, Setzer has recorded several of his own songs that are derivative of various ‘50s styles, and as with his former band The Stray Cats, he relies heavily on the thumping string bass and the snare drum for both rhythm and fills. He has also covered several songs from some of the top writers of the era. New arrangements of tunes like Louis Prima’s "Jump Jive An’ Wail," and Lieber and Stoller’s "Nosey Joe" show how strong and resilient the ‘50s sound is in the right hands.

One of the nicest revelations on this recording is Setzer’s rendition of Bobby Darin’s "As Long As I’m Singin’." For four rollicking minutes his vocal has more grit and vibrato than usual, and his guitar solos are played over complex swing changes. Although not his strength, he even sings a scat solo with confidence and showmanship.

Arrangers Mark Jones, Ray Herrmann, Patrick Williams, and Mike Acosta provide some of the strongest artistry here. They breathe excitement and new life into the material. Many of the arrangements were based on original recordings, but these tracks take the original concepts to new heights. Setzer dips into Stray Cats repertoire to record a version of the instrumental "Sleepwalk," which now sounds awake and alert with the new big-band accompaniment. Even the lazy ballad "Since I Don’t Have You" (recorded by everyone from Leslie Gore and The Five Satins to Barbra Streisand and Guns ‘N Roses) has a fresh new simonize job, and the hood ornament is still gleaming.

The musicianship is superb on all tracks with the exception of Gwen Stefani’s vocal duet with Setzer on "You’re The Boss." The musicians show their versatility by wailing, groaning, swooping, soloing, and sometimes singing background vocals. Setzer continues to make a career of evoking the shiny-suit-and-Les-Paul-Guitar sound. In fact, his guitar work on this CD is as strong as any recording he has made.

Engineer John Holbrook also deserves credit for the success of this CD. The 13-piece horn section sounds solid and unified with only slight stereo panning of the different sections to provide the audio image of the band sitting together on stage. On several tracks, the choice of using a delay effect on all vocal and instrumental parts was particularly interesting. It provided a depth to the mixes as well as a sound evocative of the albums of the era.

If there is one complaint, it would be that Setzer’s guitar tends to override the style of the song he’s playing. "Jump Jive an’ Wail" is an upbeat blues that uses the syncopated horn part from the original Louis Prima recording. It’s a bouncy swing track until Setzer’s rock-and-roll solo changes the style. He could have sat this one out and featured a few solos from the band.

From soup to nuts this is a great CD. The Dirty Boogie is a must for the young crowd of weekend swing dancers and old Stray Cats fans. Even if you haven’t learned how to do the jitterbug or the Lindy hop, this CD will certainly keep your toe tapping.