Setzer channels the past

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Brian Setzer has spent more than 30 years channeling the history of American music. While best known for his rockabilly work with The Stray Cats and swing with his big band, his band and solo work has touched many corners of the music world, including rock, jazz, country, blues, heavy metal and punk.

And so it is that his latest record, "Setzer Goes Instru-MENTAL," released April 17 on Surfdog Records, hearkens back to the middle of the last century. At times, the record channels Chet Atkins and Les Paul, at others, the Ventures and Dick Dale.

The common theme of all these artists? Virtuousic guitar picking. Setzer is up to the challenge, putting his own impressive chops on display on a mellow gem like Ray Noble's "Cherokee" or on his own hard-driving composition, "Go-Go Godzilla."

It's no frills here, as it's just Setzer, upright bassist Johnny Hatton and drummer Noah Levy. As the title indicates, these are all instrumentals.

Setzer also flirts with bluegrass in a way previously unseen in his work. The record opens with a rousing rendition of Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky." We later get our first ever taste of the guitar master on banjo when he picks it up for "Earl's Breakdown."

My spin: B+

If you're into hearing a great gutarist at the top of his game, "Setzer Goes Instru-MENTAL" is your record.

Music fans have been too quick over the years to pigeonhole him with movements like rockabilly revival in the '80s or swing revival in the '90s. The truth is, this guy has been one of the most consistently good guitarists in the business for 40 years.

The new album is just another example of exactly how good he is.