As long as I have been going rock clubs, there have been guys sporting pompadours and dreaming of being reincarnated as Elvis or James Dean. Along with the dos and the attitude, comes a sound called rockabilly that inspired many an Eisenhower era, post pubescent, pimply faced adolescent. “At Sun, wild rockabilly and polite company were part of the same continuum, as surely as Saturday nights rolled into Sunday mornings” (from the Sun Records page). In the liner notes of his new CD, Rockabilly Riot, Setzer provides a definition of the music, which is absolute poetry:
“Rockabilly, the musical bastard of rhythm and blues, hillbilly, country, gospel, and maybe even a little jazz sung by wild-eyed southern white boys with too much time and too little money just looking for trouble.”
In saluting the pioneer record label, one should mention the contributions of late Memphis producer Sam Phillips. This includes introducing the first major rockabilly smash “That’s All Right” released by Elvis in 1954, in addition to recording the likes of Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis. It was his natural ear for the music and the patience to provide artists with an opportunity to showcase their sometimes raw, undeveloped talent.
Anyone who has followed Mr. Setzer’s career is aware that he possesses a strong reverence for swing and rockabilly and approaches it from the standpoint of a traditionalist. While recording this record, Setzer used vintage microphones, a classic Gretsch guitar and to recreate the sound of mid 1950’s echo, employed a water cistern from the 1800’s. This attention to authentic detail is clearly reflected by the clean, yet unpolished sound of his new disc.
Before selecting the 23 songs he eventually recorded, Setzer listened to a tremendous wealth of material and stated, “Some I’m sure you know and some are very obscure gems.” The collection begins with the very recognizable “Red Hot,” a classic rocker about a young lad bragging about the tangible qualities of his latest girlfriend. On this track Setzer wastes no time displaying his proficiency as a guitar slinger, laying down a solo that draws from the repertoire of licks by Carl Perkins and Chuck Berry.
Another familiar song is “Real Wild Child,” originally recorded by Australian pop star Johnny O’ Keefe in 1958 and more recently covered by original punk rocker Iggy Pop. With a slamming piano bit played by sideman Kevin McKendree, the latest version sounds way more Jerry Lee than Iggy. The stripped down quartet is rounded out by the steady stand up bass playing of Mark Winchester and the superb precision drumming of Bernie Dresel, who charted all of the drum parts from the original records.
Mr. Setzer has assembled a good collection of upbeat tracks that showcases his considerable talents as a musician. His rhythm guitar and solos passages are textbook examples of pure rock and roll energy and technique. I was also impressed by his finger picking part on “Mona Lisa,” a track that offers some of his best work on the release. The supporting musicians provide the perfectly executed parts to complete this entertaining rockabilly music lesson.
Hatchie – Keepsake
Keepsake, the debut album by Brisbane dream pop artist Hatchie is musical luminescence that can only be described as music written for the stars
Brisbane indie-pop artist Hatchie (known to her friends and family as Harriette Pilbeam) is in the envious position of being a pop artist unspoiled by the many trappings of what it is to be a modern pop artist. Unlike some of her contemporaries who craft music by committee or with Sheeran-like self-importance, Hatchie is as of now, unsullied by the pressures of the cookie-cutter pop machine. Hatchie’s debut full length is a showcase for a talent who is supremely confident and composed in her abilities, and Keepsake is musical luminescence that can only be described as music written for the stars. The album is also a wonderful throwback to pop’s dreamy 60s influences that shuffle in and out of this delirium while working alongside distinctly more current musical touches.
There is the lush dream pop sounds of “Without a Blush”, taking cues from the best of what Stars and Goldfrapp conjure but heaping a tonne of Pilbeam’s charisma on it. Like her vocals, “Without a Blush” has this elegance that has the ability to elevate songs from being beautiful to grand. It is the kind of vocal elegance that really shines through on songs like the skittering, beat-driven “Obsessed” and the alternative, guitar-fuelled (yay!) “When I Get Out”. Indie/electronic closer “Keep” is a wonderful end to proceedings.
However, the great strength of Keepsake is not just its composure in how all the songs have been put together. It is also this genuine, natural-sounding quality that permeates the album- nothing overly written, overly produced or put together by research groups or music analysts. It just sounds like talent. We can argue that much of pop music is constructed to appease the moment- designed to grab as much attention as possible in an A.D.D. world. And sure, that can be said about almost any kind of music, but the resulting aural tone of Keepsake is anything but transient or transparent.
The best way to combat tepid chart-topping music is to write better pop songs. Songs like “Her Own Heart” and the disco-toned “Stay” are examples of pop music that come across as timeless. We are moved by the songs found on Keepsake when we listen to them today. And I suspect that in 10 years time, or in 20, we will most likely feel the same. It is rare to find the sort of ageless beauty you find on Keepsake.