Brian Setzer's newest album, "Songs for Lonely Avenue"

Brian Setzer’s newest album, Songs for Lonely Avenue, much of which was recorded in Minneapolis and engineered by Institute of Production and Recording faculty members Scott LeGere and Eric Olsen, recently debuted at #4 on Billboard’s Jazz Chart.  Having been a fan of Mr. Setzer’s dramatic style since the days of my youth in which “Stray Cat Strut” could be heard blaring from a small boombox on my shoulder in some childhood approximation of ghetto blasting, I was eager to explore his latest.

An album cover design contest was held to find artwork for the release…

From the high energy opener “Trouble Train” and the chugging swagger of “Dead Man Incorporated” I knew this disc would offer a rollicking excursion into sounds and attitudes from a time before the word ‘cool’ had lost its relative meaning.  The energetic arrangements set the mood for tales of passion and rebellion, the kinds of stories able to transport the listener to a world of hip cats and dangerous dames.  Slower numbers like the title track simmer with a classy and classic swing.  Even the instrumental tracks seemed to somehow be urging me to drop everything, hit the road for Vegas, and be ready for whatever mystery and adventure might come my way.  Brief moments of humor interject as well, such as the brief Oriental riff inserted as Setzer contemplates getting to China in order to “dig a hole to Carolina” or the few references to modern life (lattes with soy milk and GPS devices to guide us) that remind us this charm is no mere relic, but rather a melding of some “old fashioned” sensibilities and sentiments with a current day outlook and timeless romantic struggles.  By the end of the disc I was well convinced that the potentially strange bedfellows of rockabilly, surf, jazz, blues and rock n’ roll can find plenty of common ground in the deft musicianship on display throughout Songs For Lonely Avenue.  Of course, by then I was also pretty sure I should attempt to grow a pompadour and start carrying a switchblade wherever I go…

The three-time Grammy winner and former Stray Cat talks about his new CD ‘Songs From Lonely Avenue’

The overall tonality of the music is bright and crisp – horns, cymbals, and other high frequency material shimmer with clarity and a type of “openness” that allow the material to really jump out of your speakers while still sounding quite natural.  And by bright I certainly don’t mean the harsh and sterile digital version of the term, in fact, not once during my initial listening session did my mind drift to thoughts of digital recording technology – an essential aspect for keeping the spirit and mood of this particular brand of ‘cool’ in tact.  I was also particularly fond of the mix separation evident from tasteful panning of horn parts on tunes such as “Kiss Me Deadly” and “Passion Of The Night”.  As for the vocals, Setzer’s crooning and storytelling come through in an intimate fashion,  sounding alternately conversational – the life of the party you actually want to converse with, or urgent as he warns against the wiles and lures of seductive and spicy characters.  Clean guitar tones and riffs are allowed to take up prominent space throughout the album, all the way to the closing instrumental “Elena”, a  dynamic arrangement offering a farewell which is at once driving and contemplative, a chance to reflect on just where this lonely avenue might be headed…

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