CD Review of Red Hot & Live by Brian Setzer and the Nashvillains
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Brian Setzer and the Nashvillains:
Red Hot & Live

Reviewed by R. David Smola


rian Setzer is always tweaking with something in his sound. Throw out The Knife Feels Like Justice, in which he suppressed his rockabilly heart and made the most different album of his career. Knife was a rock record, no ‘billy (well, just a little bit). The one constant in most of his material is his distinctive, busy, rowdy and fantastic guitar playing. He doesn’t make the same album over and over, he tinkers with arrangements and his overall sound. His orchestra adds layers and layers to the music he records, covers and writes. That incarnation is quite different then the real basic guitar, stand-up bass, vocals and frenetic guitar approach of the Stray Cats. On Rockabilly Riot: Volume I, a love letter to the rock and roll generated by Sun Records, Setzer showed great restraint in his playing, toning down his guitar heroics to make the songs the star.

On Red Hot & Live, he takes the basic Stray Cats formula and adds great piano playing to the arrangements and lets his guitar absolutely rip. If you are looking for blazing guitar solos and speedy riffing, this is the record for you. The usual suspects are here, such as “Runaway Boys,” “Rock This Town,” “Gene & Eddie,” and “The Stray Cat Strut.” They are performed familiarly enough to satiate the fans, but have new wrinkles added to give them a slightly different bend. I could probably do without the bass solo in “Stray Cat Strut,” but that is a minor complaint. The Nashvillains are quite a tight little outfit providing the perfect complement to his virtuoso guitar work. Bernie Dresel, who has worked with Setzer in the Brian Setzer Orchestra, knows how to find the grove for his boss. His drum work here is crisp. Ronnie Crutcher on stand-up bass makes up the other half of the bottom end. The piano of Robbie Chevrier (who grabs a guitar also when not at the keys) really helps the music swing, adding some swagger to the muscle of the guitar work.

The best track on the record is an old (1974) Bee Bop Deluxe song, “Rocket Cathedrals.” Setzer and the Nashvillains absolutely rock through this track, which begs to be blasted; the song sounds less rockabilly and more rock and roll. Setzer lets the guitar slinger in him loose in this 2:39 adrenaline blast. The record is perfect for a fall evening drive with the moon roof open. Turn it up, because it is a whole lot of fun.

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