Cool music died with the collapse of grunge. So it makes sense that musicians and audiences would get desperate enough to start reviving antique notions of hip. That’s one explanation for the neo-swing movement, which keeps sending jump bands jitterbugging up the charts, from the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.
But does that render the movement a novelty blip, or an ingenious way to expand the sources of modern pop? You’ll find wildly different answers on the new albums by Squirrel Nut Zippers and The Brian Setzer Orchestra.
Though the Zippers’ success predates swing’s breakthrough, the Chapel Hill, N.C., group trolls this world’s camp low end. Like their previous, platinum ”Hot,” ”Perennial Favorites” stresses mannered rethinks of Southern big band jazz, awash as it is in droppy violins and drunken horns. It can be as animated as a Carl Stalling score for a Looney Tunes short, only larded with smugness. Same goes for the vocals of Katharine Whalen, whose sleepy Billie Holiday cadences verge on satire. They’re adept but inconsequential, the kind of thing that’ll keep the Zippers in rote hotel work long after pop works this swing thing out of its system.
By contrast, ”The Dirty Boogie,” The Brian Setzer Orchestra’s third album, boasts originality and flair. Instead of slavishly reviving big band music, Setzer puts a Louis Prima-style horn section behind a wailing electric guitar. Setzer’s take on jump music reflects not only the kick of his rockabilly roots but the expansiveness of ’60s and ’70s rock. He can soar above scores of horns with his flickering solos, and his blistering six-minute redo of the Stray Cats’ ”Rock This Town” makes the original sound narcoleptic. Unlike the Zippers’ period music, Setzer’s passionate sound should keep its cool through any age. Favorites: C-; Boogie: B+