Written by Dan Callahan

SoundBytes: Swing's the Thing

Perhaps one of the greatest things about music is its diversity. There's so many different kinds of music, you never quite know what you're going to listen to next, or what the next big thing is going to be. Some people try to predict these kinds of things (anybody remember when electronica was going to be the big thing a year or two ago? It never was that big a deal), but soften a musical genre will suddenly take the world by storm and surprise at the same time. Case in point: swing. Yes, that's right, the big music from the 1940s. It's back, and it's big. Swing has come from out of nowhere to be this year's coolest musical arena. Here's a look at some of the swing bands that are making things happen.

Squirrel Nut Zippers

Pretty Flowers!

Album: Perennial Favorites

Swing Style: Dixieland

The Scoop: The band best known for their breakthrough hit "Hell" off of Hot is back now with their brand new album, Perennial Favorites. This album's title actually denotes the content pretty well, as there are many very good songs for those who like SNZ's dixieland swing. The first single off of Perennial Favorites, "Suits are Picking up the Bill," comes off lyrically as a variation of Reel Big Fish's "Sell Out," talking about what happens when the music companies are recruiting a band. For those SNZ fans who aren't fortunate enough to have their limited edition EP Sold Out, they'll be delighted to find one of the fine songs off of it, "Pallin' with Al." Looking for a little rhumba in your life? The you'll love "The Trou Macacq" which covers some rhumba action beautifully. Also, of course, when James Mathus isn't on vocals, you get to listen to the luscious voice of his wife, Katharine Whalen, always a treat.

Cherry Poppin' Daddies

Green!  My favorite color!

Album: Zoot Suit Riot

Swing Style: Punk Swing

The Scoop: Five years ago, the world knew of Seattle as being the grunge capital of the world. Well, musically, it's a little more than that. This has been easily proved twice inthe last year, with the geek rock hysterics of Harvey Danger, and the punk swing sounds of Cherry Poppin' Daddies. Punk swing? You betcha. This is what happens when you take a classic musical style and add a little modern sensibility. Sure, it's not as loud as most punk music, but punk was really always a little more about the topics they treat. And CPD really come through on that. "When I Change Your Mind" talks about the problem with finding the right girl, only she doesn't quite know it. And there's tons of songs about different social issues, from the rich in "Mr. White Keys" to child abuse in "Drunk Daddy." Plus, of course, there are also the songs that are just plain fun, as is the case with the first two singles, "Zoot Suit Riot" and "Brown Derby Jump." Altogether, this album is a treat in all aspects.

Brian Setzer Orchestra

Ooh, now that's very noirish

Album: The Dirty Boogie

Swing Style: Swing Rock

The Scoop: Brian Setzer? Of the Stray Cats? Yup. That's him. He's back, and now he's swingin'. This time, what happens when you combine some good old fashioned rock and roll with a full swing band? You get one great album. This album really takes the best of both worlds, paying equal parts homage to swing with some fabulous covers of classic swing songs, and the fabulous guitar playing we've come to know and love of Setzer. The best songs on this album feature something extra special, and luckily for the listener, they also come right in a row, tracks number 6, 7, and 8. Track 6 is the well-known by now cover of Louie Prima's "Jump Jive an' Wail," which is getting a lot of attention due to the lucky coincidence of the original song being featured in a Gap commercial recently. Track 7, "You're the Boss," was a very pleasant surprise when I discovered the fabulous duet between Setzer and Gwen Stefani of No Doubt. The song features (of course) fabulous vocals, and works very well. Track 8 comes through in a big way when Setzer does a swing cover of the Stray Cats' "Rock this Town." Overall, a solid effort that makes you sit up and take notice.

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

That's One Jumpin' House!

Album: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

Swing Style: Jump Swing

The Scoop: Hey, isn't that the band from "Swingers?" Heck yeah, they're here and now they have a full album, not just a few tracks on a soundtrack. But never fear, their signature song off the soundtrack, "You and Me and the Bottle Makes 3 Tonight (Baby)" is still here, and it sounds more polished, more stylish, and generally just better than ever. Also making a reappearance is the great tune "Go Daddy-O." This album, featuring tons of strong songs, is the perfect album to get if you want something to dance to, especially if you're a swing-dancing freak. If you're into classic-style Jump Swing, this is the band you want to listen to.

Royal Crown Revue

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?

Album: Mugzy's Move

Swing Style: West Coast Swing

The Scoop: While not always my own cup of tea, I recognize the talent in this band. Their retro-style '20s era gangster music presents some excellent songs, but also some songs that are a little off as far as I'm concerned. The songs that work best are the ones that, somewhat like BBVD, make you just want to get up and dance. "Hey Pachuco!" is a strong, fast-paced song that makes you want to do just that, as does "Barflies at the Beach." The one song from the retro sound that I do like is "Zip Gun Bop," a peppy song with a zippy sound. Also notable is the cover of Bobby Darin's "Beyond the Sea." This album is a somewhat uneven experience, but interesting nonetheless.

Dan Callahan aka Speaker4theDead (Speak for short), is kind of upset with Royal Crown Revue because they made the Amazing Royal Crowns change their name to the Amazing Crowns. But they're still Royal to the Loyal.

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