Swing's Last Gasp?

Guilty Pleasures

The Jive Rockets (Independent)

By Tim Roberts

It would not be fair to grade The Jive Rockets on the long-faded curve of the resurgence and rapid disappearance of swing bands late in the last decade. Nor would it be fair to tell them that their two-toned shoes, goatees, vintage suits, and even the band-member nicknames are all just sooo 1998, the year we were assaulted by martini-swigging white boys in zoot suits and horn lines that came at us like a SWAT team. With The Brian Setzer Orchestra as the clear winner of the Race to Avoid Obscurity, the rest of the bands are relegated to trivia questions - "I'll take Annoying Fad Bands for 300, Alex."

No, the Jive Rockets stand on their own with Guilty Pleasures not because they add anything to a three-year-old cliché (that was nothing but an emulation of one from nearly 60 years ago), but because of what they subtract from it, both in instrumentation and overall sound. They have two reed players instead of a full horn line, and an upright bass, acoustic and electric guitars, piano, and drums. The sound is deliberately underproduced, but not so raw that it sounds like it was made from a demo cassette. The Jive Rockets aren't a swing band in the snap-brim, reet-pleat sense. Their sound is more like early dance hall rhythm-and-blues. They are the band your parents (or maybe even grandparents) wanted to play at their prom. They're yours now. And when Guilty Pleasures finishes, you almost expect hear the whisper of the janitor's broom sweeping up crepe paper streamers from the gymnasium floor.

The songs on Pleasures are played loosely and with joy. Their lyrics are about love that's simple and honest (the rollicking "Sara"), obsessive ("VooDoo Charm"), and spicy (the title cut and "That's What My Baby Likes," where the lyrics start out deceptively as a cheesy valentine and abruptly move into a descriptive session of some hot S&M). There is an obligatory swing instrumental called "The Prophet," and a tender ballad called "Season's Change," the song that's played on the jukebox during the last dance of last call when the bar manager's foot is on the plug, ready to kick it out from the wall.

Like the best rockabilly bands or big-band jazz orchestras, the Jive Rockets freeze a moment in the nation's musical culture, bring it into the future, then emulate it honestly without all the overproduced polish. In other words, they don't make their music because it is the cool thing to be playing at the time.

Swing has not taken its last gasp. It is still alive with Guilty Pleasures from the Jive Rockets. Only this time it's taking smaller breaths.