The Dirty Boogie – The Brian Setzer Orchestra (1998)

The Brian Setzer Orchestra

Album artwork for The Dirty Boogie

Brian Setzer has always been a bit of an old soul.  He got his big break in the early 1980s as the frontman of a group called the Stray Cats, which gained popularity as a rockabilly revival band.  With the music industry having moved on from its Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly days three decades earlier, their music was a nostalgic kick that helped to revitalize the genre. After four years with the group, Setzer began to pursue a career as a solo artist, releasing The Knife Feels Like Justice in 1986, which marked a shift towards a more roots rock type of sound.  Then, in 1990, the Brian Setzer Orchestra was formed.  As a 17-piece ensemble with a full trumpet, trombone, saxophone, and rhythm section, it was easily his most ambitious project yet.  Despite early struggles to keep the extensive group financially supported, they soon signed with Interscope Records and released their landmark album The Dirty Boogie in 1998. The release broke through into the top ten on the US charts, and quickly came to define the retro swing revival throughout the next decade.

Brian Setzer doesn’t just echo the voices of swing band stars like Count Basie, Benny Goodman, and Duke Ellington from ages past; he redefines the genre and makes it his own. As the frontman, main vocalist, and guitarist, Setzer commands his handpicked troupe of musicians with gusto.  The energy captured in the recordings on The Dirty Boogie are absolutely unreal.  By doing nothing more than closing your eyes, you can be transported to the hottest swingin’ jazz club of the ’40s.  With a voice that channels equal parts Presley and Sinatra, he is versatile enough to either bring the house down with a fast, raunchy number or lull them to sleep with sweet, dulcet tones.

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Santana – Santana (1969)

Santana

Album artwork for Santana

So this is now the second album I’ve featured in the past week that was made over thirty years ago.  As a matter of fact, this very first album from the soon-to-be iconic group Santana, was released forty-four years ago in August of 1969.  Think about that for a second.  You may not have even been alive when this album came out – I certainly wasn’t.  To put this in a bit of context for you, The Beatles would release their swan song record, Abbey Road, about a month after Santana debuted.  Led Zeppelin would release Led Zeppelin II about a month after that, and Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma would hit record stores the following month, November.  All of those classic rock records your parents listen to?  Yeah, this album precedes most of those (not quite all of them, though).  The question is, why am I going so far back in time with these album reviews?  Why not focus more on the newest releases?

Well first of all, over half of my posts feature albums from the past two years, so I certainly wouldn’t say I neglect the newer material.  As a matter of fact, I pride myself on keeping up with the latest and (hopefully) greatest from each and every artist I follow.  That being said, it’s simply impossible to fully appreciate the extent of how far we’ve come as a musical society without acknowledging our heritage.  We’ve all come to accept this as fact – it’s why we always want to know the origin story of all our beloved superheroes, or why we study history in school.  By learning from the past, we can understand much more about the present, and we can use such knowledge to better prepare for the future.

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Introducing Thrills (And The Chase) – Thrills & The Chase (2012)

Thrills & The Chase

Album artwork for Introducing Thrills (And The Chase)

Let it not be said that rock & roll is dead.  The current generation of youth may have transferred much of their rebellious energy to be channeled through electronic dance music instead, but by no means does that warrant the abandonment of such an integral part of modern culture.  After all, rock & roll was the first genre that rocketed the electric guitar into the mainstream world.  It was the genre that gave us our first taste of the true power of modern musical instrument technology.  The second half of the 20th century in popular music was without a doubt a golden age in music history.  That being said, there has been an unfortunate decline in the amount of classic rock music that continues to be produced today.  It’s understandable – the music industry is in a constant state of transition – but the truth will always remain: there is simply no substitute for some good ol’ rock & roll.

It’s in times like these, however, that the true believers in the genre shine through.  Today, I have the pleasure of presenting to you Thrills & The Chase, a four-piece band from São Paulo, Brazil.  Back in March of 2012, they released their debut EP, entitled Introducing Thrills (And The Chase).  Having gained a following in their home nation, they have begun expanding their musical mission across the globe.  Now, as a self-appointed representative of the aforementioned globe, I would like to personally thank Thrills & The Chase for doing so.  To put it bluntly, this is music that deserves to be heard.  This is rock & roll at its finest; music that is unique and draws inspiration from many different influences, yet somehow still presents itself with an air of nostalgia and familiarity.

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Flying Colors – Flying Colors (2012)

Album artwork for Flying Colors

Album artwork for Flying Colors

“It started with a simple idea: virtuoso musicians and a pop singer joining to make new-fashioned music the old fashioned way.”  This was the proclaimed genesis for what would soon develop into one of the most exciting musical collaborations in recent rock history. Flying Colors, a supergroup of sorts formed out of some of the most distinguished and respected titans in the modern rock discipline, released their self-titled debut album earlier this year.  A remarkable fusion of classic rock, blues, progressive rock, funk, metal, and just about anything else you can find in the kitchen cupboard, Flying Colors is a staunch reminder of how rock music took the world by storm and hasn’t fully given it back ever since.

Before getting more into the music itself, however, we should take a look at the players.  On guitar we have Steve Morse, who is well-known as a founder of the Dixie Dregs, a member of Kansas for several years, and the current guitarist for Deep Purple.  On bass guitar is Dave LaRue, who has been working with Steve Morse for many years already due to his involvement with the Dixie Dregs since 1988 and with the Steve Morse Band since 1989.  He has also contributed to albums from the likes of T Lavitz, Joe Satriani, Jordan Rudess, John Petrucci, and Planet X.  The keyboardist (and backing vocalist) for Flying Colors is Neal Morse (not of any relation to Steve), who has made a name for himself as the main songwriter for progressive rock band Spock’s Beard for many years, a member of Transatlantic (a prog rock supergroup), and as a solo artist with ten studio albums to his name, with another one coming later this year.  The instrumental section of the band is rounded out with none other than Mike Portnoy on drums, who co-founded the renowned progressive metal band Dream Theater back in 1985 and continued to play with them for the next 25 years.  In addition, he has pursued countless side projects over the years, including Liquid Tension Experiment, Transatlantic (with Neal Morse), tribute projects for the Beatles, Rush, Led Zeppelin, and the Who, and Adrenaline Mob, to name but a few.  He also recorded drum tracks for most of Neal Morse’s solo albums, and he served as an interim drummer for heavy metal band Avenged Sevenfold in 2010.  Last on this list is vocalist Casey McPherson, a singer/songwriter and lead vocalist for alternative rock band Alpha Rev.  He is the definite dark horse of the group, but his contributions to the album more than make up for his short list of credits.  I, for one, am looking forward to what he has in store for us in the future.

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