Brian Setzer wasn't sure if he had another Christmas album in him.
The Stray Cats co-founder and leader of the Brian Setzer Orchestra had already released four Yule-themed albums with the latter, and he readily acknowledges that, "I wasn't sure how many songs were left out there to do." But after releasing "Rockabilly Riot! All Original" last year, he decided to dive into the repertoire and was pleased to find more than enough material for the new "Rockin' Rudolph."
"There's a gazillion! of 'em," Setzer, 56, says by phone from his home in Minnesota. "There's a lot of songs. 'Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree,' I said, 'Oh, I haven't done that.' Then there's 'Here Comes Santa Claus.' So I sat down and deconstructed 'em and set 'em up for the (Orchestra)."
That, however, can be a tricky process of balancing figuring out just how far afield Setzer can take each individual songs.
"Well, y'know, these song exist for a reason," he acknowledges. "They've been around a long time because they great songs. The trick is to make them sound like the Brian Setzer Orchestra, so basically you have to take 'em apart and what I like to call scuff 'em up. I have to make them a little modern and mean sounding.
"It's attitude, definitely. It's playing it aggressively, putting it into a rock 'n' roll mentality and adding arrangements to songs where they didn't exist before. It's a musical process that's different for each song."
"Rockin' Rudolph features staples such as "Most Wonderful Time of the Year," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "Carol of the Bells" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem" as well as two versions of the Setzer original "Yabba-Dabba Yuletide," with new lyrics set to the theme from "The Flintstones" that came to him during a jet-lagged night in Paris. "Rockin' Rudolph," meanwhile, is a hybrid of old and new, setting "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" to a dramatic, brassy big band arrangement.
The best part of it all, Setzer says, is getting to add the songs to his shows and freshen up the BSO setlist for its annual holiday tour.
"A lot of the (songs) will be in there, and I'll have to drop some out -- that's the hard part," he explains. "I have to do 'Jingle Bells.' I have to do 'Rock this Town.' So what do you lose?
"That's a really important part of the show is the set list, the hills and valleys and what you lose and what you add. But musically (the Orchestra) is so satisfying for me. I love doing it. It's like bringing out this beautiful old car you own; You're not expecting to drive it around the world, but you're getting off on being able to show your friends and putt around in it. It's awesome."
Brian Setzer Orchestra Christmas Rocks! Tour
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18.
Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit.
Tickets are $35-$50.
Call 313-471-6611 or visit olympiaentertainment.com.
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