Who knew that swing music was experiencing a resurgence in popularity? Well, everyone but that was, like, six years ago or something. Apparently, either no one bothered to tell Max Weinberg about the neo-swing movement when it was (pardon the pun) in full swing, or he couldn’t talk anyone into releasing his contribution to the genre back when it was still relevant.
Weinberg is best known as the drummer in Bruce Springsteen’s legendary E Street Band, and has played with other such impressive artists as Sting, Meatloaf, Paul McCartney, and Natalie Merchant. Currently, Weinberg is the musical director for Conan O’Brien’s late night show. Many of the songs included on the eponymous debut of his Max Weinberg 7 have been featured on O’Brien’s program, and they sound like it; that is, they are very expertly performed, inoffensive ditties of a generic and forgettable nature.
Although some of the instrumental numbers are nearly interchangeable, several of them—including “Nervous Boogie”, “Rockin’ Time”, and “Woody”—are quite enjoyable. The songs on which trumpeter Mark Pender and guitarist Jimmy Vivino sing, however, are more problematic. A really good swing band requires a vocalist with lots of charisma and interpretive skills, and neither Pender nor Vivino fits the bill.
The only vocal number that really catches fire is “Catch ‘Em in the Act”, which features vocals and piano by the legendary Dr. John. His raspy growl is a great match with the mildly risqué subject matter, and he is comfortable enough with the material to mold the song into his personal style.
Otherwise, the Max Weinberg 7 plays things way too safe. Given that they are middle-aged professional musicians who are paid to play to a mainstream television audience, that’s not very surprising. Still, gazing at the inside cover photo of a smiling Weinberg going the way of Regis in a button-down shirt with same-color tie, it’s hard not to long for the days when he sat, skinny and sweaty, pounding the hell out of the skins behind The Boss.