CD Review of The Knife Feels Like Justice/Live Nude Guitars by Brian Setzer

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The Knife Feels Like Justice/Live Nude Guitars
starstarstarstarhalf star Label: American Beat
Released: 2007
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American Beat is providing a great service for the collectors of the world by grabbing titles that have gone out of print and slapping them on CD. They don’t add to the liner notes and it doesn’t appear as if they mess with the mix at all; they just want to get the stuff out there. After Setzer left the Stray Cats, he was briefly re-invented as a not-really-a-rockabilly guy for The Knife Feels Like Justice. He returned to his rockabilly roots for Live Nude Guitars. This release showcases two very cool records by an artist who has been making interesting music for over 25 years. The Knife Feels Like Justice is the record that really breaks from most of the material he has produced. This album has much more in common with the sheen of the Cruzados’ After Dark or Lone Justice’s Shelter than it does with the Stray Cats material. Nude finds him right back in the bass, drum, guitar and vocal mode, twangin’ and rockin’.

The third track on Knife, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” is a big old ballad with a wonderful vocal performance by Setzer and terrific keyboard work by Rolling Stones touring keyboardist Chuck Leavell. “Bobby’s Back” is catchy as hell and absolutely insists that you tap your toe. “Maria” has a sock hop with a country twang feel and was co-written by Steven Van Zandt (long before he would become Sylvio Dante). With the exception of “Three Guys” and “Barbwire Fence,” both of which have that Stray Cat texture, Setzer stretched himself out here, exploring different types of sound. “Breath of Life” even has a bit of a gospel feel with great background vocals credited to Diva Grey, Peggi Blu and Queen Ester Marrow.

For Live Nude Guitars, Setzer directs the sound back towards the Stray Cats formula by constructing most songs with drums, bass, vocal, and his sizzling guitar. From “Red Lightning Blues” through almost the entire record, Setzer’s blazing guitar is the star. Three songs stand out as deviations from that formula: “Every Tear That Falls”is a pleasant ballad, again featuring a terrific vocal performance by Setzer; the David A. Stewart (of Eurythmics fame)-produced “When the Sky Comes Tumblin’ Down” twangs but has big backing vocals, horns, and that giant, overproduced ‘80s sound; and “Love Is Repaid by Love Alone” features strings. These are nice breaks from the rockabilly of the rest of the album. The other material is very good, but it helps to have a different approach here and there to break things up a bit. Setzer’s reading of the Edie Cochran hit “Nervous Breakdown” reveals the hooky riff that Jimmy Page borrowed to compose “Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman).”

In between “Rock This Town” and his orchestra era, Setzer released two records that only enhance his legacy. Knife proved he could stretch and Nude confirmed that he was awfully good at the old, old school rock and roll game. Slap this on your iPod and you might have a very interesting set of music for your next workout.

~R. David Smola