A stray cat leading his own revolution of sound, Rockabilly icon Brian Setzer returned in late August 2021 with his first solo album in seven years. With Gotta Have the Rumble, released via Surfdog Records, the three-time Grammy Award winning guitarist, songwriter, and vocalist offers 11 all-original tracks full of the nostalgic storytelling swing that he so proudly champions.
So it’s really no shock that Gotta Have the Rumble is Rock-n-Roll that struts, swings, and jumps to its own beat. Produced by Julian Raymond (Glen Campbell, Cheap Trick), the album was recorded in Minneapolis and Nashville, and it sees its creator embracing all things loud, wild and free. Setzer notes: “Obviously, it’s a reference to my motorcycles and hot rods, something that hasn’t changed since I was 15 years old. I still have the same passion for going fast and adrenaline. But it’s also about my hearing problem with tinnitus–the ringing of the ear. It was pretty bad, and I realized that I couldn’t play the way I wanted to. As I recovered, standing in front of a small amplifier just didn’t cut it. The sound from my big amp makes the guitar rumble. Which is a big part of my sound. I was really despondent for a while because I thought I wouldn’t be able to do that again. So, ‘Gotta Have The Rumble’ refers to both of those things.”
Transcending his condition to once again explore the love of his craft, the exceptional musician holds nothing back as he implores listeners to rev their engines and get ready to rumble. The starting line for Gotta Have the Rumble is, rather ironically, marked by “Checkered Flag.” Riding high on some seriously surfy vibes, the LP’s first single/video boasts choruses that invite listeners out onto the dancefloor to strut. So it is that with our hips shaking, Setzer wiggles straight into our hearts with the slinky storytelling of “Smash Up On Highway One.”
No surprise here Setzer proves himself a master storyteller throughout the entirety of the album. There are moments that draw on cinematic inspiration—such as the girl who never had a chance in “The Wrong Side of the Tracks”—coupled with an ever-present sense of humor that shows its Cheshire Cat grin on songs like jam session “The Cat With 9 Wives” as well as the stealth groove of “Off Your Rocker.”
There is, of course, a tremendous diversity within the sonic pages of Gotta Have the Rumble. We witness Setzer working his hips with all the swagger of The King in the light-hearted “Stack My Money,” and shedding a tear among the calming island breezes of “Drip Drop.” He plays at tickling our fancy with rocker “Turn You On, Turn Me On,” then volunteers his services to the squeaky clean ladies who need “One Bad Habit.”
Two of the album’s stand-outs find the King of Rockabilly in his element as he once again revs our engines with the stellar “Rockabilly Riot” then experiments with Country on the surprising “Rockabilly Banjo.” The latter is a toe-tapping finale featuring, you guessed it, banjo. The new flavor that this brings works brilliantly, ending the collection on a fun high that begs you to start the entire party over once more. If you still have a stereo, feel free to press that “Play” button a second, third, or thirteenth time!
Admittedly, there’s no dramatic concept behind Gotta Have the Rumble. It’s a collection of tracks meant to make you dance, to step outside of what’s happening in your life at that moment and embrace the beat; to allow Setzer’s guitar and vocals to bring all the relaxation of the wind in your hair. No surprise, his exceptional guitar work is enchanting, his stories bringing to life the sleek sensuality of candy apple red hot rods serving as a perch for beautiful ladies in curve-hugging wiggle skirts. It’s a vibe that has been imitated by many, but few can capture the magic like Setzer. He’s a man with enough swagger to single-handedly keep the Rockabilly genre alive and Gotta Have the Rumble is the proof! For this, Cryptic Rock gives Brian Setzer’s latest 5 of 5 stars.