Does anyone remember the retro swing craze from six or seven years ago? Spearheaded by the Brian Setzer Orchestra, Squirrel Nut Zippers, and Capitol Records' "Ultra-Lounge" compilation series, dancing a lindy hop, zoot suits and martinis were suddenly in vogue. Once mainstream America (read: Madison Avenue- remember those Gap ads done to the tune of Louis Prima's "Jump, Jive, and Wail?) latched its hands onto the craze it burned out very quickly, unable to build upon the hipster nostalgia that fueled it in the first place.
Another factor that caused the retro swing craze to die a quick death was the fact that most of the bands were cookie-cutter sound alikes with no sense of subtlety and an ironic lack of swing. A discerning ear could probably figure out what band he was listening to by how loud that band played. Some of the bands that emerged from the swing craze evolved into genuine bands of substance (Chicago's Mighty Blue Kings and their transformation from swing clones to an authentic B3 organ-driven R&B band outfit come to mind). Mostly, the bands that made a quick buck with swing music either faded away or jumped on the next bandwagon.
One of the bands that set itself apart from the rest of the swing pack was the Bay Area based Indigo Swing. This sextet, led by cherub-faced vocalist Johnny Boyd, understood that tempo, dynamic, and subtle nuances in the song arrangements were more effective than trying to crack crystal with a baritone saxophone solo and looking like Louis Jordan's Tympany Five onstage.
Indigo Swing called it a day in 1999. Boyd has since put his energies into releasing his debut album, "Last Word In". Stylistically, the album almost suffers from multiple personality disorder, but is held together by Boyd's distinctive voice and some sharp song arrangements. While his neo-swing roots are in evidence on "Comin' Home To You" and "Don't Know What I Was Doing" , Boyd also touches upon the roots music sound of Chris Isaak on the album's title track, the Bakersfield western swing of Buck Owens on "I'll Do Right By You", and cocktail music with "That Was The Time". "I Got Religion" showcases a horn arrangement by pianist Red Young and a tongue-in-cheek mariachi chorus. "Honey-Dew" is as close to rockabilly as one can get, and Daniel Glass' tight drumming and Casey McGill's stereo ukuleles drive "Some Eggs". Glass is the MVP of this album, holding everything together with drum work that never beats the listener into submission.
I'm almost inclined to not even call this a jazz album because Boyd touches upon so many musical styles. But he does it with amazing talent and sincerity, again setting himself apart from his peers. Boyd has a wonderful voice- a high plaintive tenor, excellent phrasing, and a warm tremolo that he only uses when needed. His lyrics are inventive and funny, and he utilized top-notch musicians on this recording who helped him achieve what he had floating around in his head. Johnny Boyd is a talent to be reckoned with.