Brian Setzer will rock and swing holiday-style next week at the Saenger Theatre.
Setzer, a rockabilly cat with his 1980s trio The Stray Cats, evolved into a swinging big-band frontman in the ’90s with his Brian Setzer Orchestra. Tuesday’s 8 p.m. show at the Saenger is a stop on his 12th “Christmas Rocks! Tour.”
The 31-city holiday trek follows the release of the singer-guitarist’s newest Christmas album, “Rockin’ Rudolph.”
“It’s always exciting to add new songs,” Setzer said in a statement about the tour’s set list. “Rockin’ Rudolph” follows Setzer’s 2005 release, “Dig That Crazy Christmas,” and 2002’s “Boogie Woogie Christmas.” In a Q&A interview provided by his publicist, Setzer said popular demand inspired his new holiday album.
“They are classic songs and you wonder, after doing a few records, ‘How many songs are left?’ ” he said. “Then you think, ‘Wow! I have never done ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’ or ‘Here Comes Santa Claus.’ ”
Christmas songs that return every holiday season earned their classic status, Setzer reasoned.
“It doesn’t matter if they are holiday songs or when they were written,” he said. “They are just great songs. The trick is to make them sound hip. Some of them are eternally hip. You don’t have to do too much.”
Take, for example, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
“On the Christmas tour, I started playing that in a minor key with a rockabilly beat,” Setzer said. “I brought it into my own style.”
Setzer’s new holiday album also features arranger-composer-conductor’s Frank Comstock’s swing-jazz treatment of “Joy to the World.”
“Frank Comstock is one of the great chart writers,” Setzer said.
“It is a lost art. ... Frank Comstock wrote it in the 1940s, but it doesn’t sound like it was written in the ’40s.”
The Setzer Orchestra’s arrangement of Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” opens unmistakably like a BSO piece but takes its time in revealing exactly what song it’s performing.
“It’s like chaos, like you are stuck in traffic,” Setzer said. “Then the song comes in and it’s awesome. … The original ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’ is great. You cannot beat it, but you have to make it your own.”
“Yabba-Dabba Yuletide” is Setzer’s holiday rendition of “The Flintstones” theme song.
“Everyone knows the Flintstones theme, which, by the way, is a great jazz piece on its own,” Setzer said.
“I wrote some Christmas lyrics for that.”
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” features Setzer’s Wes Montgomery-style jazz guitar solo plus a rather complicated piano chart and, unusually, male backup vocals only.
But “Here Comes Santa Claus” is Setzer’s favorite song on the new album.
“There is a whole chart written around that, a whole new road map,” he said. “I love the girls’ singing on that. That’s a brand-new part. It became a new song.”