Rockabilly Review – Brian Setzer’s “The Devil Always Collects”

Is a country music fan allowed to mess with some Brian Setzer? You’re damn right you can mess with some Brian Setzer. He’s America’s premier roots music revivalist, and arguably more responsible than anyone else for keeping rockabilly and the elemental Sun Records influences alive and kicking ass in the modern era. He’s rock and roll’s version of your favorite neotraditional throwback country artist who never quit, never compromised, and upon occasion, found curious but welcomed popularity.

He may be able to qualify for Social Security come next year, but Brian Setzer isn’t slowing down anytime soon. His flaming fingers on the hollow body guitar are still nimble, the pompadour is still quaffed, and the energy and attitude is still ablaze like he’s not a day over 24. That’s what has always been great about the music of Brian Setzer, even back in his days with the Stray Cats. It takes you back to being a reckless teenager again, sans the social awkwardness and acne.

Brian Setzer’s new album The Devil Always Collects will make you want to paint flames down the side of the family cruiser and start rolling a pack of cigs in the arm of your plain white T. That may not be good for your health or marriage, but hot damn, it sure is fun. Setzer’s not trying to reinvent the wheel here or anything. He’s already done that multiple times during his legendary career. He’s just trying to turn in a kick ass record and do his part to keep the flame alive.

Similar to traditional country, the key to great rockabilly is respecting the rather rigid rules of the genre, sticking close to the established verbiage, while also figuring out new ways to keep it feeling fresh and vital. Lucky for rockabilly fans, the appeal of the rhythms remain timeless, and Setzer leans into this from the start with the opening song “Rock Boys Rock” and its innuendo-bolstered chorus.

Rockabilly isn’t exactly a politically correct art form. Simply the song titles of “Psycho Suzie,” “One Particular Chick,” and “A Dude’ll Do (What A Dude’ll Do)” will probably be enough to make some grab the suicide handle and swing a U-turn. But hey, this is period music using the vernacular of the day. Don’t be a prude, Daddy-O. This isn’t Shakespeare, it’s Setzer.

The revved-up title track is one of the standouts on this record, and feels destined to become a standard in the rockabilly world. Brian Setzer steps it up into the straight up rock realm with the badass “Black Leather Jacket.” And let’s not forget that Setzer was also seminal to the late ’90s swing revival, and he reunites with a horn section on “She Got a Lotta … Soul!”

Also don’t overlook the fact that Brian Setzer and The Stray Cats strayed into the country (or country-ish) realm in their career on multiple occasions. If you don’t believe it, go back and listen to the song “Lookin’ Better Every Beer,” or “18 Miles From Memphis” featuring steel guitar. Setzer shows his country side once again by covering the legendary country trucker standard “Girl On The Billboard” made famous by Del Reeves. It might be the best track of the set, and a great bridge if you’re just discovering or rediscovering Setzer’s catalog.

Brian Setzer became an American original by revitalizing sounds that the rest of popular music was so quick to toss aside. He knew all the way back in the early ’80s and way before the rest of us that the early sounds of American post-war music would be eternally in style like a good pair of blue jeans. Here 40 years later, Brian Setzer still remains relevant, and still remains right on his bet, helping to keep us all young at heart.

1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)

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