It seems that with every passing year, popular music as a whole gets more and more convoluted. Whether it be a bit of experimentation from a tried and true favorite, or an all out genre bending orgy of sound and structure that defies the norm, modern music consistently finds a way to surprise. And that’s a really good thing most of the time. It keeps things interesting. But sometimes hearing something classic, something familiar, something….expected can be more refreshing than the alternative and that is exactly where you will find Brian Setzer and his new album Rockabilly Riot! All Original.
Riot! is Setzer’s first album of all original material (sans-orchestra) since 2006’s 13 and he wastes no time picking up where he left off. Album opener and lead single “Let’s Shake” raucously jumps from the speakers with Setzer’s signature Gretsch wail leading the way, but unlike some of Setzer’s more recent albums, the frantic energy of “Let’s Shake” is mostly sustained throughout the 12-song set. “Vinyl Records” “Stiletto Cool” and “Cock-A-Doodle Don’t” keep the energy level at full capacity, with Setzer and his band laying a groove so deep it’s damn near impossible not to get up and dance around in your living room. There are a couple of instances throughout Riot! that see the band curtail their rockabilly stomp. Both “Blue Lights, Big City” and “The Girl with the Blues In Her Eyes” are brief respites from the frenzied pace of Riot! with Setzer’s melancholy croon taking center stage over his virtuous guitar work.
Lyrically, Riot! provides traditional rockabilly fare (women, cars, blues, etc.) but Setzer’s storytelling ability concerning the aforementioned subjects remains top notch, making him one of the best in the business. The swinging, call and response jive of “Lemme Slide” sees Setzer beg forgiveness for a series of transgressions, both big and small, while the bouncy country bluster of “I Should’a Had a V-8” is a three minute tour de force that pays homage to big ass motors and even bigger regrets. It’s a fascinating listen, even for those who aren’t familiar with the inner workings of automobile engines and while Setzer’s lyrics are far from highbrow poetics, they come across as some of the most genuine stories he’s ever laid to tape.
Rockabilly Riot! All Original is exactly the sort of album you’ve come to expect from Brian Setzer. Blazing guitar work, catchy melodies and carefully crafted storytelling persist throughout, with very few unexpected surprises to be found. In truth, it could be one of the most straightforward records of the year, something that Setzer likely had in mind as he recorded. And with results as good as the songs found on Riot!, we wouldn’t want it any other way.