Lee Rocker – Night Train To Memphis

www.leerocker.com

2012’s Night Train To Memphis is Rocker’s new album following last year’s Cover Sessions EP. In the build-up to the album Rocker claimed that this would be his stamp on his favourite rockabilly classics and cuts from his career with Stray Cats. The tracks that he’s picked to cover certainly span his career from his early Stray Cats days, and before, to his working with Carl Perkins, something he reflected on when playing his brother, Jay Perkins, in Million Dollar Quartet.

The sound on Night Train To Memphis is not far removed from that on The Cover Session EP. Lee’s band play more of a role on this album and the overall sound is tilted more towards the rockabilly end of the spectrum. However, Lee has not lost all of the country flavour that marked out his last album. The country sounds pop up in some unexpected places on the album which I’ll cover in the track-by-track. Generally, the sound on the sound on the album is crisp, clean and very well levelled.

Track List

Rockabilly Boogie (Burnette, Burnette, Mortimer & Hawkins) – Rocker leaves no doubt as to his primary instrument as a thoroughly-slapped bass kicks this album off! The lyrics of this track make it one of my less appreciated on the album as I always feel rockabilly songs about rockabilly are a little thin. However, both guitarists and Lee are in fine form on this track so there’s still something for the instrumentalists to enjoy, even if the  solos are tantalizingly short.

Night Train To Memphis (Acuff) – The second track on the album starts off with a more gentle acoustic feel with one semi adding almost slide-guitar style riffs. Lee’s voice and tone suit this song perfectly and in many ways it reminds me of some of the gentler stuff on Lee’s strongest album, Black Cat Bone. Look out for the Luther Perkins-style guitar solo.

Slap The Bass (Rocker) – When I first heard the sample for this track I feared that this going to be Lee’s attempt at “Rockabilly Boogie” type song which had little originality in it and generally wouldn’t appeal. I must say that I’m pleasantly surprised by a number where Buzz Campbell’s jazzy playing and Comets-style riffs keeps proceedings interesting and adds a good deal of cool spice.

Twenty Flight Rock (Fairchild) –  I must start off on a controversial note here and say I generally don’t like Stray Cats’ covers of Eddie Cochran songs! I know this may sound very odd, with Cochran being a key influence on the band, but, to me, they miss that sense of cool Eddie had in his singing. To me, Cochran always sounded slightly laid back in most of his singing, like there was always another gear he could push on to but never used. The Cats however, tend to go for all out hell-for-leather covers that then lose that sense of cool. That said, this is a fair cover and one of the better efforts a Cat has made a covering an Eddie Cochran classic.

Wild Child (O’Keefe) – This version of “Wild Child” takes its inspiration most strongly from the cut that Jerry Lee Lewis recorded when he was at sun records and was also a track Brian Setzer chose for his covers album, Rockabilly Riot. Unlike Setzer, Rocker chooses to leave the piano at home at home for this track and it becomes a guitar led rockin’ chugger. Considering that two of the Cats have chosen to cover this song, it seems odd that it’s not surfaced on either any Stray Cats live album that I’ve heard, nor on the Stray Cats’ Original Cool.

Honey Don’t (Perkins) – This track is perhaps the closest to the original of any on the album. Having worked with Carl Perkins in the 1980s, I think this track is intended as a direct tribute to Mr Blue Suede Shoes. Overall, a strong performance where Buzz Campbell shines in particular through his delicate finger picking and rhythm playing.

That’s Alright / Blue Moon (Crudup / Monroe) – A medley of these tracks has been a regular staple of Lee’s career and he has released a live version on Burnin’ Love and Blue Suede Nights. This rendering is very much a studio recording of how Lee has played this live without the bass solo as the songs pass from one to the other.

Tear In My Beer (Williams) – My least favored track on the album. This is a strong country-and-western flavored track that would have felt at home in Rocker’s previous release. For me, this is too country and also it strikes me as being some of Williams’ weakest writing when compared to his other compositions, such as “You Win Again” or “Lost Highway”.

Lonesome Tears (Holly) – A relatively hidden gem in Buddy Holly’s catalogue is wonderfully brought to life by Lee Rocker. At this point I must mention the strength of Lee’s guitarists in referencing the styles of various 50s guitarists as various Tommy Allsup licks are spread over this track. Again, this is faithful to the original song and Lee’s vocals are top-notch.

Built For Speed (Setzer) – A interesting, quirky cover of this Stray Cats staple. When the album was originally advertised I expected several straight runs of Stray Cats classics with Lee singing. However, we have one, and straight it isn’t! The primary instrument here is not a chugging Gretsch but a banjo and an acoustic taking back towards Cover Session territory. A definite grower and an interesting twist to a track that any Stray Cats aficionado can hum in their sleep!

So Sad (Smith) – The first of a pair of Everly Brothers classics that see out the album. The two tracks together give a gentle, soulful close to the album and I feel give a timely nod to the Everlys, who are easily forgotten on much of the rockabilly scene.

All I Have To Do Is Dream (Bryant and Bryant) – This is another recent staple of Lee’s gigs. From what I’ve seen, the song is performed live by Lee and Buzz Campbell singing together Everly-style. However, on the record the whole band is in place. In this faithful covering it’s hard to tell if the second voice is Rocker overdubbed or Campbell supporting the, clearly, Rocker vocal lead. My guess is that it’s the former.

Overall I prefer Night Train To Memphis to its predecessor as I prefer the stronger rockabilly stamp that this album holds. Night Train To Memphis is an enjoyable listen where all the musicians shine and the performances are generally strong. However, after two covers releases, I’m now looking forward to hearing more original material from Rocker that can match the superb serving we got on Black Cat Bone.

Lee Rocker – Night Train To Memphis – 7/10

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Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three – Middle Of Everywhere

www.pokeylafarge.net

Middle Of Everywhere is the 2011 release by Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three. This album is in a style that stands apart from all the other pieces I have blogged on to this point – being a mix of pre-WWII country, blues and ragtime merged into what laFarge calls River Boat Soul. I first became aware of the band through their performance on Jools Holland’s Hootenanny show at New Year.

At a first listen, country is the predominant style on the album but I have found that, the more listens through I give it, the more I pick up. Traces of Robert Johnson’s blues, Woody Guthrie’s folk and others are all in the seamless mix that the band has put together. Each of the tracks is led by LaFarge’s nasal, yet charismatic singing and his rhythm guitar. The South City Three consist of upright bass player Joey Glynn, Adam Hoskins on lead arch-top guitar and Ryan Koenig on washboard percussion. All of the group are superb musicians in their own right and each plays an integral role in the overall sound.

Track List

“So Long Honeybee, Goodbye” (LaFarge) – An ‘old-time’ country flavored track that laments trying to hold together a relationship while being on the road. The singer remains upbeat, claiming that, if the girl gives up on him,  ‘You’ll be the one to sit alone and cry’ as there is plenty of fish in the sea. A strong opener to the album with a cleverly used change of pace later in the song.

“Ain’t The Same” (LaFarge) – A guitar and harmonica track that strongly reminds me of the soundtracks to the Railroad Tycoon games! The singer here is arguing that he can offer a girl a life better than the one she is living and more like the wanted she wanted further back in time. The song keeps it bluesy feel throughout and has a very catchy central riff.

“Head To Toe” (LaFarge) – A feel-good ragtime song with a strong call-and-answer technique throughout. The lyrics are fairly traditional ‘I Love You’ lyrics but this doesn’t stop the song being enjoyable.

“Sunny Side Of The Street” (LaFarge) – A laid-back song where the singer is crying out for something ‘to lift my out of the world’ after a failed love affair has broken down. A gentler song.

“Shenandoah River” (LaFarge) – Another of the album’s gentler tracks that talks about a couple sharing a gentle sail in a rowboat on the title’s river. The song has a jazzy feel contained within it, brought through in some of the chord choices.

“Mississippi Girl” (LaFarge) – The pace picks up here as the harmonica brings this track in. The pace has picked up to that which marks the opening songs on the album. Here the singer sings of the joys of dancing with a southern girl.

“Feels So Good” (LaFarge) – Another of jazzier feeling tracks on the album. Set to a raunchy beat, the lyrics are talking about how good it is to be in love. There is a brief bass solo in this track, slapped in the rockabilly style. Also this track features the largest amount of horn music on the album.

“River Rock Bottom” (LaFarge) – A harmonica driven ballad gives the tale of the singer complaining of having the blues while his partner claims that she has all he needs to get the blues over. This is the most downbeat start to a song on the album so far but as it progresses to the solo it kicks up to the gear LaFarge has used throughout the album.

“Weedwacker Rag” (LaFarge) – This track is again representative of LaFarge’s charismatic singing as he proclaims that he’s a whole new type of person from those mostly found in the world.

“Drinkin’ Whiskey Tonight” (LaFarge) – The song that caught my attention on Jools Holland. The song is a celebration of drinking together with friends and the good times that ensues. The song, especially live, shows off the musical ability of the band and the charismatic leadership of LaFarge.

“Good Country Girls” (LaFarge) – Like so many of the tracks on this album, this one is hard to pin down. In line with the song’s title, country, is a strong influence here but there’s also a fair amount of ragtime jazz in the mix here and this mix keeps the track interesting as the different instruments, especially the harmonica, solo through.

“Coffe Pot Blues” (LaFarge) – The song sounds very different to most on the album. I’m not sure if this was recorded in a different place to the rest of the album or whether the change is simply a deliberate choice of LaFarge. This is  a strong bluesy track that has strong traces of Robert Johnson and other pre-war blues artists in it.

“Keep Your Hands Off My Gal” (LaFarge) – The album finishes on a gently jazzy note where the singer calmly threatens to kill  anyone who puts their hands on his girl!

Overall the sound that Pokey LaFarge has (re)created on this album sits well outside of what I would usually listen to. The strong pre-war country/ ragtime/ blues feel marks it out from my more normal fare of rockabilly and classic rock. However, the band’s secret weapon is Pokey – his voice and charisma keeps drawing me in and I find it infectious, especially in the stronger tracks. The only downside to the album is the samey feel of some of the songs. Listening to this album does make a refreshing change generally and I do think it is dominated by an upbeat feel that’s guaranteed to garner a smile.

Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three – Middle of Everywhere 6/10

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Status Quo – Heavy Traffic

www.statusquo.co.uk

Having recently purchased a copy of this album that is fast approaching its decade anniversary, I thought it time I gave Heavy Traffic by Status Quo a review. The album marked Bob Young’s return to song writing duties for the band for the first time in approx. 22 yearsThis fact is significant as Young has held the joint pen for some of Quo’s great classics, such as “Caroline”.

Overall, the album is viewed amongst Quo fans as being one of, if not the, best album that Quo has released since the reformation of the band in 1986; the close competitors being Under the Influence (1999) and Quid Pro Quo (2011). Allmusic.com claims that the album is the band’s finest since Blue For You (1976) (http://www.allmusic.com/album/heavy-traffic-r609450).

The album is noted for being recorded with all the members of the band playing together in the studio, ‘traditional’ style for the rhythm sections. Using modern studio techniques (and overdubbing, such as Rick’s guitar parts ) the sound quality of the album has not suffered for its live input and it sounds tight and well balanced with the dual tele’s leading the trademark Quo rhythms. Other instruments – notably Bown’s keyboards and organ are spread over the guitars delicately so as not to knock them off of front-and-centre. Both Parfitt and Rossi supply top-notch vocals across the album.

Track List

“Blues and Rhythm” (Bown, Rossi) – A heavy boogie track that must have had the hardcore smiling in 2002! The song is a semi-autobiographical look at someone starting out in a rock band. The song contains a nod towards Quo, with the Marshall Stack and Fender Tele mentioned, and also a nod towards the band’s inspirations; namely ‘that Brown Eyed Handsome Man’: Chuck Berry.

“All Stand Up (Never Say Never)” (Rossi, Young) – Bob Young’s first writing contribution on the album gives rise to a song designed to be concert crowd pleaser. A fast paced boogie-shuffle, the track is a celebration of the weekend and the need to live to party! The song is fast paced and keeps the Quo tradition. The lyrics are light-hearted in nature which perhaps reduces the songs appeal to the hardcore but I say that it is a pleasant enough listen and a track I can enjoy.

“The Oriental” (Edwards, Rossi) – A quirky Quo number that is built around a superb riff created by Francis Rossi and expanded on by John Edwards. Edwards, the bass player for Quo since ’86, claims that this is one of his favourite self-penned songs as it keeps true to the Quo shuffle whilst not being ‘Quo-by-numbers’. This track is awesome live as its open feel, starting with just a bass drum and guitar, helps it to rock and sound different. The lyrics are highly questionable – the song’s downside – and must be tounge-in-cheek. This song is a rocker live and, with hindsight, the studio recording doesn’t manage to live up to the track live.

“Creepin’ Up On You” (Edwards, Parfitt) – “Creepin” is a firm favourite amongst fans – I’ve heard quotes saying that it’s one of tracks that sits best along the band’s output at their peak in the 1970s. The song is a slower shuffle over a bluesy key. The lyrics state how the singer is creeping on the girl who is bound to be his love. For me, this song is a grower, initially I wasn’t keen on the opening riff or the bluesy key, but, as time has gone on, the track has grown on me and I’d now give it 3/5.

“Heavy Traffic” (Edwards, Rossi, Young) -The title track of the album and my personal favourite here also. This song is another boogie-shuffle at a more moderate pace. The lyrics are on fairly central ground, they’re not as a light as “All Stand Up” and not as heavy as others, such as “Creepin Up On You”. This mid-set pace, middle lyrics and an incredibly catchy chorus makes this song my favourite – it’s just a shame that it hasn’t made the live set since 2003!

“Solid Gold” (Rossi, Young) – A ‘Quo-by-numbers’ track that features Bown prominently on harmonica. The track is solid enough (pardon the pun) but nothing special. The lyrics are the singer almost pleading the potential partner to go with them ‘on a wing and a prayer’. I’m not that keen on this track overall as it has a slightly darker feel but I can see it being a favourite among many of the ‘hardcore’.

“Green” (Bown) – An interesting number penned by Andy Bown, the multi-talented member of Status Quo. The song is led by Bown’s Hammond Organ and by acoustic guitars – a marked difference from the usual Quo sound. It reminds me both of “Gerundula” and of Bown’s solo album released nine years later. The lyrics have an environmental concern and speaks of how humankind is turning where we live into ‘a hole in the ground’. This song is definitely a grower and the more I hear it, the more I like it!

“Jam Side Down” (Britten, Dore) – This cut was the publicised single for the album and featured a promotional video filmed aboard HMS Ark Royal. The track itself is at the lighter end of the album – a poppier sounding cut picked as a single to try and please as many potential fans across different genres as possible I guess. I don’t mind this song, I wouldn’t call it a classic Quo track by any stretch but it has a catchy guitar riff and a generally upbeat feel which I like. The lyrics are nothing to write home about though and sound very contrived in places – ‘My bread keeps landing jam side down, say you’ll be there to spread love around’. This is in no small part due to the fact that boogie-rock is not the natural field for Britten and Dore who are more recognised as writing for artists such as Tina Turner and Cliff Richard.

“Diggin’ Burt Bacharach” (Rossi, Young) – A shorter song that has two different tempos within it. The verses have a slower, more open feel and the song kicks into another gear for the choruses. This song I first heard on Francis Rossi’s solo tour and have been a fan ever since. I don’t think it’s custom-made for the Quo faithful but it it’s a good chance for Rossi and Young to show their talents.

“Do It Again” (Bown, Edwards) – An mid-tempo track that argues life is for living and that, if you find something you like you should “Do It Again”! The song is not a highlight of the album for me; it’s not a bad song per se but just nothing special and one I don’t find myself searching for very often.

“Another Day” (Rossi, Young) – The topic of this song is the singer arguing that he needs ‘another day’ to save a relationship that the partner is arguing should be dispensed with. The song is tightly performed and the chorus is catchy. I’d put the track firmly in the middle of the album – not one of my picks but not a song that I’ve taken a dislike to. A song inspired by Francis Rossi telling the Quo manager at the time, David Walker, that he needed ‘another day’ to finish the album.

“I Don’t Remember Anymore” (Bown) – I fun track that is truly belted out by Rick Parfitt! The song speaks of a booze-fueled night out that the singer can no longer remember much about. The lyrics are mostly fun and light hearted although perhaps one could read a darker hint at the Quo singer’s reputation for wild living across his career.

“Money Don’t Matter” (Bonus) (Rossi, Young) – A gentler track that spins out far more choruses than it does verses! The style and songwriting remind of that that Rossi and Young later put towards Rossi’s solo album One Step At A Time.

“Rhythm Of Life” (Rossi, Young) – A slower, bluesy track to see out the album. The lyrics aren’t clear but certainly lamenting in style and lend themselves well to the bluesy feel of the song. A well played track, I don’t know the source of pain for the lyrics – some may argue that they come from points of regret as Rossi looks back across his life – I simply don’t know!

Overall I can fully understand and sympathize with those who argue that Heavy Traffic represents a return to top-form for Status Quo. Right from the opening riffs of “Rhythm and Blues” it’s clear that Quo are on form and intending to rock the way that the fans want them to!

There are plenty of highlights on this album, tracks such as “All Stand Up”, “I Don’t Remember Anymore” and the title track are all what I want to be hearing from the Quo. There has been a lot of talk on the official Quo message boards that the band should consider playing an album in full. I know that, in all reality, the album is not one of the 70s highlights and so wouldn’t register as a possibility – but- if the band ever took this route they’d do worse than to look at Heavy Traffic; and that is some of the best praise I can give.

Status Quo – Heavy Traffic 9/10

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What does 2012 hold?

I thought in this post I would ponder what 2012 holds for some of the bands and individuals that I’ve followed over the course of the year. These are in no particular order so feel free to browse through and comment your opinions and predications.

Status Quo

The mighty Quo had an eventful 2011 with the release of the critically acclaimed album Quid Pro Quo. Reaching the top 10 in the UK and having a run of singles making the BBC Radio 2 A-playlist marks a significant success for the British group.

The clamour round the band seems to suggest that 2012 could be just as notable for the band as it celebrates its 50th year (in various forms) and 35 years since the release of the iconic Rockin’ All Over The World. A film, entitled Hello Quo is planned for release for Autumn 2012. This film, involving all the original members of the band, known as ‘The Frantic Four’, has given rise to the rumour that a series of reunion gigs involving John Coglan and Alan Lancaster could be taking place across the course of the year. When asked whether this likely to happen, current bassist, John ‘Rhino’ Edwards said he did know something about it but wouldn’t say what he knew! This possible event is sure to keep the appetite of Quo fans whetted through 2012.

Brian Setzer / Lee Rocker / Slim Jim Phantom

In the year 2011 Brian Setzer released his first all-instrumental album: Setzer Goes Instru-Mental!. This was supported by the Rockabilly Riot tour that covered Europe and the US, with fellow Stray Cat, Slim Jim Phantom, in tow. Lee Rocker made his mark on broadway in 2011, playing as part of the cast of Million Doller Quartet for a select series of shows.

Lee Rocker has announced two albums for 2012. The first is a debut to CD of his 1985 album, Phantom, Rocker & Slick. The second is a new release entitled Night Train To Memphis.  This could be the long-mentioned Rocker record of rockabilly classics and his own stamped versions of some of the Stray Cats cuts. This album, containing ‘Twenty-Flight Rock’ and ‘Night Train To Memphis’ is slated for release in Feb. 2012.

Brian Setzer has announced that his next album will be recorded with the Rockabilly Riot Squad, with some tracks possible including the double rhythm section that marked the conclusion of the gigs. Whether this will be completed in 2012 or include Slim Jim Phantom we are yet to see.

Duane Eddy

With the release of his first album in 25 years, Road Trip, Duane Eddy seems set to hit the big time on the rockabilly music scene again. Working with Richard Hawley, 2012 promises a UK tour for Eddy, in support of his Sheffield inspired and recorded album of 2011. Although dates are yet to be confirmed we look forward to see Duane following on from his handful of UK dates from the festival season of 2011.

Jerry Lee Lewis

2012 promises a European tour and new live record for The Killer. The tour currently takes in Bucharest, Paris and Cannes in June. The record is called Live At Third Man Records. The album, produced by White Stripes guitarist, Jack White, is to be released. It is only available on vinyl to those that were there to begin with but will be released on CD later in the year.

This is a general cover-all of action I know is upcoming for some of the rock rockabilly groups I like. I’m sure others will have a busy year – I’d be stunned if there wasn’t more from Imelda May (with the re release of No Turning Back)  and Roger Taylor, of Queen, has already claimed he has a busy year in store. Brian May is set to hit the road once again with Kerry Ellis. If you know some more please feel free to add it in!

One To Watch –  As a final note I thought I’d add that I found Jamie N Commons on the BBC Sound of 2012 website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/soundof/2012/artists/jamiencommons/#p00m9nsc). With an interesting, late-Johnny Cash-esque sound shown in his track ‘The Preacher’, he could be one to watch in 2012.

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2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,800 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 30 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Leaders Of The Pack – The Independent

An interesting and powerful article was published in The Independent today discussing the impact of the 1950’s songwriters on everything that followed: from Dylan to Oasis. Definitely well worth a read.

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/features/leaders-of-the-pack-jerry-leiber-and-the-jukebox-generation-2342588.html

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Brian Setzer – Live at Brixton Academy (24.07.11)

On Sunday night my girlfriend and I joined the queues outside the famous Brixton Academy to see Brian Setzer’s Rockabilly Riot. At 7pm the doors opened and we quickly grabbed a spot in front of the sound desk and looked forward to the evening ahead.

The first band out was the new rockabilly group The Caezars. A four-piece group boasting a talented guitarist in Danny “O”, the band struggled against a poor sound set-up meaning that I could not make out a single word sung in any of the songs. This was a frustration shared by the second support act the highly rated Jim Jones Revue. The Revue’s lead singer, Jim Jones, decided to take this out on the audience however! Getting frustrated with a lack of audience participation (in no small part due to the fact that we couldn’t make out any of the lyrics!) he ended up criticising us for wanting to see Brian Setzer more than we wanted to see him! Overall, neither support act impressed me greatly and I think they both missed fundamental tricks on the rockabilly scene, such as having a sprinkling of standards in the set list.

Following half an hour’s set-up time, Johnny Hatton and Noah Levy strode onto the stage to huge applause. Seconds later the opening riff to “Ignition” rang out and the crowd took the roof off of the joint as the king of rockabilly, Brian Setzer, took control! In the first set Setzer played a mix of rockabilly standards, such as “Put Your Cat-Clothes On”, and tracks from his solo career – “8-Track” and “This Cat’s On A Hot Tin Roof”. The musicianship throughout the set was storming and the whole band shone on tracks from Setzer’s new album, Setzer Goes Instru-MENTAL.

At the beginning of the second set Brian Setzer announced that the guitar he was playing was first used for Stray Cats in the 19080’s and to go with it he had brought a ‘spare Stray Cat’ – Slim Jim Phantom! With a new bass player – Chris D’Rozario – on stage, the band kicked through a selection of Stray Cats classics such as “Rumble In Brighton”, “Runaway Boys” and “Stray Cat Strut”. The crowd was clearly buoyed by this selection and the presence of two members of the 1980’s rockabilly giants. Special note has to go to D’Rozario who I thought was awesome on the bass. No disrespect to Johnny Hatton, but I felt that D’Rozario had a rockabilly style right up there with Mark Winchester and Lee Rocker.

The only low-point of the set for my girlfriend and I was the fact that we had to sneak out of the gig during “Red Hot” for fear of missing the last tube back to our hotel!

Overall Brian Setzer and both of his bands put on a hi-octane storming set. The sound was spot-on for Setzer’s set, making it a vast improvement on the sound at the Stray Cats gig in Zurich ’08. The quality of Brian’s playing was awe-inspiring, as was that of his bands. The set was a good mix of rockabilly standards, Stray Cats classics and highlights of Brian’s solo career and orchestra. It was nice to see Slim-Jim again and I can’t wait for the next time the rockabilly riot hits town!

Article first published as Concert Review: Brian Setzer’s Rockabilly Riot, Brixton Academy, 7/24/11 on Blogcritics

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