The gangster shtick may be a bit too much for some, but don’t let that fool you, behind the slightly kitchy image lurks one of the hottest and most accomplished swing bands today. The Squirrel Nut Zippers would have you believe they kick started the swing renaissance, but don’t believe it, Royal Crown Revue was there first, peddling their punk-tempoed wild swing to the zoot-suited masses since 1989.
Reaching beyond the jump blues of much of the current swing revival, The Contender is akin to an encyclopedia of 1940s and 1950s cool. There’s the Bobby Darin-style swagger of the Harold Arlen classic “Stormy Weather,” the faithful and convincing reworking of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Salt Peanuts,” and the exotic Calypso swing of “Port-Au-Prince (Travels With Bettie Page).” Oh, and judging from the album’s closer “Deadly Nightcall” they’re pretty good at instrumental, improvisational cool jazz as well. There’s nary a weak track on this collection, even the gangster-influenced “Zip Gun Bop,” with its rather goofy lyrics, is one of the year’s best dance numbers sure to fire up Lindy Hoppers everywhere.