I saw the LP on the new-vinyl rack in a record store and was surprised, because I’ve been a pretty big Jeff Beck fan for quite a few years now, but I’d never heard of it. It turns out the Rock ‘n’ Roll Party is a collection of traditional pop chestnuts with a super hot band, not like a Jeff Beck record at all, and excellent. This is happy, happy music. But maybe the YouTube version is all you need. (“5★♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.)
The context · There’s this jazz bar in New York called Iridium where Les Paul played most Monday nights for the last 13 years of his life, which ended in 2009. This 2010 concert there was billed as “Honoring Les Paul”; most of it doesn’t sound at all like him which is OK as I wasn’t particularly a fan, although I honor him deeply as an inventor of the electric guitar, my favorite musical instrument.
The music · I haven’t checked the credits but I’m not sure there’s anything here written later than 1965. The treatments are straight-ahead, fast, 100%-irony-free. I watched the YouTube with my mother, who’s in her eighties and has never really warmed up much to loud-guitar music but still seemed to enjoy this quite a bit.
The chief musical flavor is straight-ahead rockabilly, especially as sung by Darrel Higham, who’s British and sounds like it when he talks, but sings like he grew up in the same neighborhoods as Elvis and Jerry Lee. There are pure-fun cameos from Gary U.S. Bonds and Brian Setzer; and if they don’t make you smile you’ve died without noticing it.
Darrel’s wife Imelda May sings a lot too and oh my, I’m going to have to check her out.
In among the rockabilly is a sequence of Paul/Mary tributes, as in Les Paul and Mary Ford; to achieve the famous multi-tracking effect, Imelda May recorded herself and then sang live with the tapes; really fast and with the band in perfect time; I was impressed.
There are instrumentals, and the show ends with a bang: Rock Around the Clock and Shake, Rattle, & Roll.
Highlights · Imelda May totally lights the place up on on Cry Me a River and (with cheerleading from the band) on Tiger Rag. There is wonderful rockabilly singing from Higham, Bonds, and Setzer. Trombone Shorty tears it up on the Peter Gunn theme and so does Leo Green on sax.
But the star is the band; this is an ensemble performance, tight as a drum and sometimes frighteningly fast, with no evidence of anybody breathing hard or having anything but fun. The arrangements are clever too, nothing unconventional but there’s nothing wrong with that.
Guitar? · Well yeah, Jeff Beck’s name is on the front cover. Yep, he plays really well. Often by getting out of the way, but not always; it’s cool to hear him pushed out of his comfort zone. He rips off surprising high-speed light-weight rockabilly breaks on Cruisin’ and The Train Kept Rollin, and (my favorite bit) plays two surf-guitar instrumentals, Apache and Sleep Walk, straight ahead, very beautifully; some of the shifting chords on Apache will bring tears to your eyes if you care about this kind of music. In a couple of places he digs in and plays actual Jeff Beck Solos, for example on Please Mr Jailer; and then there’s a traditional rave-up with Brian Setzer on Twenty Flight Rock.
Happy! · The band is smiling all the time while they play and it’s not because they’re trying to sell the songs, it’s because they’re having so much fun. Yeah, the songs sometimes treat of heartbreak but this is pop music and you can have fun with that too. It’s full of smiles. If you have an octogenarian parent, try sharing this with them and they might smile a lot too.
Sampling it · It seems to be available in every medium. I bought the LP but don’t particularly recommend it; the sound is only OK and it omits quite a few songs. I watched the YouTube on the big screen via Chromecast with the OK-but-not-great audio and enjoyed it a whole lot more. The sound was convincing, the whole concert is there, and the band is having so much fun you can’t help having some too.