Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"Songs From Lonely Avenue" by The Brian Setzer Orchestra

  1. "Trouble Train"
  2. "Dead Man Incorporated"
  3. "Kiss Me Deadly"
  4. "Gimme Some Rhythm Daddy"
  5. "Lonely Avenue"
  6. "King of the Whole Damn World"
  7. "Mr. Jazzer Goes Surfin'"
  8. "Mr. Surfer Goes Jazzin'"
  9. "My Baby Don't Love Me Blues"
  10. "Love Partners in Crime"
  11. "Passion of the Night"
  12. "Dimes in the Jar"
  13. "Elena"

Now, it's no secret to anyone who knows me, but Brian Setzer is probably one of my favorite musicians. Early rock n roll music is my preferred style of music from rockabilly to blues, and Brian Setzer has pretty much covered the gamut.

And the album I want to talk about is one of the best, not only one of the best albums, but uses of storytelling in music I've heard in quite some time.

The man is known to span the genres. Rockabilly, swing, jazz, blues, instrumentals, even mainstream rock, he has even done a big band album full of classical music entitled "Wolfgang's Night Out" which is quite as strange as the album I'm about to tell you about. The point is, the man has tremendous respect for the roots of music and is an excellent songwriter to boot.

Case in point, "Songs From Lonely Avenue" from 2009. He wrote the soundtrack to an old noir movie that hasn't been made. It's in essence a soundtrack to a story that hasn't been written, but that's what makes it so interesting, and not in a post-modern way. It's because it manages to show a connecting series of themes and ideas that all hook into one. They hook into one because we are so familiar with stories that we can play out one in our head despite the album not explicitly having one.

This isn't one of those "rock operas" we've been bombarded with ever since the made '00s, no, you don't get a story spelled out for you with lyrics, you get a story implied by the themes that you get to create yourself. It's a clever idea that thankfully doesn't wear out its welcome on multiple listens, but encourages the listener to find a story with the themes of the songs Brian Setzer has written. And the songs are really good, too. Possibly his best set of songs that he has written.

What makes the album work is how well he achieves the atmosphere of danger and intrigue throughout. Being noir-inspired, you can probably guess the tone, but it goes for a bit more than your average noir cliches, starting with the opening track. It starts with a warning as the song "Trouble Train" goes on to tell everyone to stay away from what is to follow. Only the damned will board the train where this story leads, it's basically a "one way ticket to the fiery end" and the track to self-destruction. On top of that, it's a hopping rockabilly number that sets the stage for what's to come.

Next, "Dead Man Incorporated" follows a man in the city having dreams and nightmares that someone is after him, but being a nobody in the city, that isn't actually the case. He uses escapism to bring meaning to his life. He would rather be the character in a movie.

Of course there are break-up songs. "Kiss Me Deadly" and "Lonely Avenue" are both break-up songs, but the latter insists on finding some semblance of hope while the former is unable to let go.

But there's also some fun to be had. "Gimme Some Rhythm Daddy" is a swing song that's as goofy as it is catchy, and the two instrumentals "Mr. Surfer Goes Jazzin'" and "Mr. Jazzer Goes Surfin'" are both engaging slices of Surf music and Jazz which form quite the unpredictable pair.

Meanwhile, "The King of the Whole Damn World" shows a very seedy individual who isn't afraid to cut a slice of the big city pie all too himself, just as "Love Partners in Crime" imagines something of a Bonnie & Clyde relationship. But it goes a bit deeper from there as "My Baby Don't Love Me Blues" and "Passion of the Night" are both bids of depression with the latter seemingly being the story of a man in love with the darkness he has fallen into.

We are clearly in noir territory by now. Thankfully, it doesn't quite end as this sort of story would typically end.

By the end of the disc we reach "Dimes in the Jar" about the love of money over everything else, which would be a depressing way to wrap things up if not for the final track. "Elena" is another instrumental reminiscent of "Lenny" by Stevie Ray Vaughan, being a song about a girl that shows hope and love without the usage of any lyrics primarily by usage of a guitar. Despite how dark the world can get, there is always hope to be had and it is a bit of a surprising ending that is both highly welcome and much needed.

It's quite a rollercoaster ride Setzer takes you on through this album, but its quite worth the trip. Nobody really makes albums like this anymore being both a celebration of the olden days of music and at the same time show their continued relevance to modern times. He also gains respect for not caring about genres. Music is music, and a good song is a good song. If only industries and audiences could see things the same way not only in regards to music, but storytelling as well.

Are the songs interconnected? I don't know, it isn't clear. But it doesn't matter. Setzer gives you all the pieces, and it is up to you to use them to complete the puzzle. I have to say, starting with fire and brimstone in "Trouble Train" and ending with light and unexpected hope in "Elena" suggests there's something there we aren't quite being told. But then, Setzer isn't one for subtlety, he doesn't need it. Maybe it's simply that obvious.

Maybe if we could all stop getting on the "Trouble Train", who knows where we might be today, right? But even to those who get on, there is always a way out. You just have to know where to look.

Brian Setzer knocks it out of the park with this album. If you have a taste for older musical styles, then be sure to give it a look. It's well worth the chance.

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