I love Christmas. I’ll admit it. The lights, the ornaments, the shiny wrapping paper, the over the top gaudiness of it all just warms my heart. But part of what makes it so great for me is the music. I’m a sucker for Christmas music. But as great as Christmas music can be, it can also turn into some of the most horrendous music you will ever hear in the hands of those who are… less inspired. Fortunately, it is going to be a ‘cool Yule’ this year as Brian Setzer has a pair of releases that are sure to do away with your inner Grinch.
Following the massive success of his first Holiday collection, “Boogie Woogie Christmas”, Setzer revs up the big band once again for “Dig That Crazy Christmas”. I believe I can safely guarantee that this is an album you will listen to again next year and the year after that. That is a rare thing indeed since every season we see the release of new holiday albums which leave us grabbing for the tried and true classics yet again. Throughout the album, Setzer’s originals sit nicely with fresh takes on the old favorites. “Cool Yule”, “Dig That Crazy Christmas” and “Hey Santa!” will have you boppin’ around the tree in no time. Setzer delivers some of the finest guitar playing you have heard this year with his beautiful instrumental version of “My Favorite Things”. Holiday parties are gonna be so much cooler this year!
Since the release of “Boogie Woogie Christmas” in 2002, The Brian Setzer Orchestra began what would become an annual event, a holiday ‘Christmas Extravaganza’ tour. Captured live at LA’s massive, Universal Amphitheater in December 2004, the “Christmas Extravaganza” DVD provides a swinging glimpse at what happens when one Rock’s greatest guitar heroes leads an 18-piece big band. This is most certainly not a Johnny Mathis Christmas, but a full blown, rockin’ affair with “Winter Wonderland” and “Sleigh Ride” proving that Setzer and company are not even close to approaching the yuletide cheesiness of so many holiday albums.
The high-energy of the band coupled with Setzer’s scorching guitar solos makes this a most hip holiday experience. Wisely mixing material from all phases of Setzer’s long career, the show offers hits from the Stray Cats and The Brian Setzer Orchestra as well as a whole batch of Christmas songs both new and old. The concert is nicely paced with plenty of songs that showcase the dynamic big band as well as a section where Setzer is joined by drummer Bernie Dresel and bassist Johnny Hatton for a killer Rockabilly set. Other highlights include the Jazz standard, “Caravan”, “Stray Cat Strut” with “You’re A Mean One Mr. Grinch” throw into the songs breakdown and inspired versions of “Jump Jive & Wail” and “Fishnet Stocking”. The orchestra’s take on “The Nutcracker Suite” is nothing less than brilliant and is easily the coolest cover of a Christmas song ever!
Since “Christmas Extravaganza” was filmed on high definition cameras the video is stunning with exceptional clarity and sharpness of color. The audio tracks are presented in stereo and 5.1 surround, both of which sound fantastic. The surround mix is not overly active but very realistic in that it recreates the spaciousness of the venue. We even get some extras such as humorous backstage footage and a video of Setzer in the studio recording “Dig That Crazy Christmas”. For you guitar players, this is a great way to see the man in action and marvel at the extremely high level of his musicianship. The guy is just a natural talent!
Christmas music just got a kick in the pants! Both releases come highly recommended.