FLAC | LINKS
Southside Johnny Lyon has been fronting one of America’s most consistently hard-rocking R&B show bands, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, for well over 30 years, so this album should come as something of a surprise to longtime fans — here Southside sings a dozen tunes from the songbook of Tom Waits alongside a jazzy, full-bodied big band led by Richie “LaBamba” Rosenberg, a longtime fixture in the Asbury Jukes horn section (and a member of Max Weinberg’s band on Late Night with Conan O’Brien). While this is very much a change of pace, it’s one that both Lyon and Rosenberg handle with confidence and aplomb; Lyon’s voice shows a touch more grain than it did in his salad days with the Jukes, but his sense of phrasing and showman’s touch is superb, and he brings swagger, heart, and sincerity to every performance here, and when Waits shows up for a duet on “Walk Away,” the two trade lines as if they’ve been singing together for years. Lyon is also a shrewd judge of material, and the dozen numbers here fit his personality and vocal approach like a glove, especially “Please Call Me Baby,” “New Coat of Paint,” and “All the Time in the World.” Rosenberg’s charts are robust and imaginative, honoring the strength of Waits’ melodies while giving the songs a chance to stretch out in new directions, and given that a majority of these songs came from the Beefheart-influenced period following Swordfishtrombones, these versions give them a new and very different musical personality steeped in big-band jazz, supper club blues, and classic pop. Is this rock & roll? Not quite, but it’s got a beat, it swings hard, and it boasts a great singer and a great band working their way through a first-class set of songs; Grapefruit Moon is an experiment that succeeds, and hopefully it won’t be too long before Lyon and Rosenberg try something like this again.