By Peter Chianca / firstname.lastname@example.org
Brian Setzer may get all the press with his glitzy orchestra and holiday extravaganzas, but Stray Cats bassist Lee Rocker has been quietly amassing his own impressive body of work — his “Racin’ the Devil” was one of the happiest surprises of 2009, merging rockabilly verve with Americana guts and gusto, including nine rollicking originals that proved his songwriting chops.
On “Night Train to Memphis” (Upright Records), Rocker plays things a little safer: Primarily a collection of covers, it’s of a piece with tributes like Setzer’s “Rockabilly Riot” and Chris Isaak’s “Beyond the Sun” — although it’s looser than the former and less perfunctory than the latter.
You can probably attribute both of those aspects to Rocker’s wild standup bass, which he slaps and plucks with typical abandon and which figures prominently into pretty much all the arrangements — from the moment it kicks in to start off the album-opening “Rockabilly Boogie,” it sounds almost other-worldly. It’s no mistake that Rocker’s one original on the album is called “Slap the Bass” — when you find yourself actually wishing for more bass solos, you know he’s done something right.
As for the covers, it’s an inspired selection, and Rocker acquits himself nicely when ambling through the likes of Carl Perkins’ “Honey Don’t” and Buddy Holly’s “Lonesome Tears.” He’s also ably supported by his backing band throughout, particularly by Buzz Campbell and Brophy Dale’s stinging guitar. “Twenty Flight Rock” has been covered umpteen times, but has rarely been this searing.
By the time Rocker shows his sensitive side, on the lesser-known Don Everly song “So Sad” and a loving cover of “All I Have To Do is Dream,” he’s got nothing left to prove in terms of his chops, rockabilly or otherwise.
Source: Wicked Local North of Boston