Brian Setzer's mission in life appears to be bringing fun back into rock and roll. His first group, Stray Cats, played old style rockabilly in the new wave era dominated by music heavy with synthesized rhythms and detached unemotional vocals. After floundering for a few years, Setzer has recently attached himself to the current swing revival with the Brian Setzer Orchestra playing jump blues and good ol' rock 'n roll with the muscle of a massive horn section. The influnces of Louis Jordan, Louis Prima, Bobby Darin and early do-wop weigh in heavily (particularly through the choice of cover tunes) on "The Dirty Boogie", the BSO's 3rd release, but there is also a sound very close to the rockabilly rhythms of Brian's earlier band, most obviously demonstrated by the revamped version of "Rock This Town".
Of course, the Stray Cats didn't have a 12 piece horn section behind them, and the BSO really rips it up on their version with a sizzling intro, some swinging fills, and a Gene Krupa like drum solo. The track is a perfect example of how to expand and rework an old song into something fresh. The other covers on the CD stay much closer to their original versions. Some are done well, some not so well. It is a compliment to say that Brian does an admirable job tackling two songs well associated with a couple of giants in the world of swing; Bobby Darin's "As Long As I'm Singing", and Louis Prima's "Jump Jive an' Wail". My favorite track amongst the covers is "You're the Boss", a jazz lounge style duet with No Doubt's Gwen Stefani, in which Gwen and Brian declare each others attributes. Stefani's vocals are as warbly as ever, but she has fun with the song's vampy approach. Favorite line: "Baby, you're a genius when it comes to cookin' up some chili sauce."
With the exception of the duet with Stefani and the revamped Stray Cats tune, the strongest tracks on "The Dirty Boogie" are Setzer originals. "This Cat's on a Hot Tin Roof", a tune that could have come from the Stray Cats days, opens the CD with a blast from the horn section and a few tasty licks from Brian's guitar. The title track follows, and on this tune the band really hits its stride. The song is high energy jump blues with a very catchy horn fill, and Brian attacks the song vocally like he's trying to reach the back of the auditorium without a microphone. If you're not up and dancing by the end of this song then this album ain't for you. "Hollywood Nocture" is a rhumba that features a smokey sax and guitar and crooning vocals. It comes a little too close to camp, but I enjoy it all the same. Also campy is the Bobby Darinesque "Let's Live it Up". Setzer usually names Darin as a major influence, and this song, while containing a certain amount of cheese, really captures the dynamic style Darin exhibited in his singing. I prefer this homage to the actual Bobby Darin cover tune that ends the album.
With this record Setzer has established himself as the dominant force of the current swing craze, but you needn't be a follower of the scene to enjoy his music. An approach that incorporates several different styles played with obvious affection elevates the CD beyond simply being part of a trend. The BSO may be part of the swing scene, but they are trying to rise above it. Once the swing scene fades away Setzer could once again find himself floundering. Like most cats though, he'll no doubt land on his feet, and wherever he ends up, I'm confident it will be someplace fun.