Monday, 7 January 2019

Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes

"We really all do come from working-class backgrounds. It’s not something you forget. Even if you make hundreds of millions of dollars like Bruce Springsteen or Jon Bon Jovi, you don’t forget what it’s like to work. I’ve been working since I was 15. And I kept my day job right up until the time we made our first album" - John Lyon 

I Don't Want To Go Home (1976)
This was the debut album from this iconic rock'n'roll blues singer and his magnificent horn-driven backing band. While their third album, Hearts Of Stone has always been my favourite, there are some good, earthy blues and brass numbers on here plus a couple of classic Bruce Springsteen songs from those classic Asbury Park boardwalk years, where he and all the other musicians featured here played regularly. This latest remaster is excellent and has finally "unmuddied" what was always a pretty muffled sound. It is clearer now, with more defined percussion sounds, at last. The drums, though, will always sound as if they were played under a wet tea towel (which in fact is often what Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt employed to deliberately muffle the drum sound at this time).

I Don't Want To Go Home, written by Steven Van Zandt, is wonderful, big and soulful with a singalong, uplifting chorus. It remains the iconic Southside Johnny song to this day. The cover of Solomon Burke's Got To Get You Off My Mind is excellent too, full of bourbon-soaked vocals from Southside. How Come You Treat Me So Bad is another upbeat bluesy song, written by Steven Van Zandt, but sounding as if it is late fifties cover. Springsteen's smoky, late night jazz club The Fever is an atmospheric number, with another killer vocal and great horns on the chorus. Steve Cropper's Broke Down Piece Of Man is covered superbly and full of blues rock vigour and a great bass line. Southside's voice again rules the roost.

The same verve carries on into the Motown-Stax-influenced and mega-soulful Sweeter Than Honey which again has some sumptuous horns. Next up are three old blues-soul covers in Fanny Mae, the quirky It Ain't The Meat (It's The Motion) and I Choose To Sing The Blues, all of which are dealt with effortlessly by Southside. The final track is a superb duet between Southside and the legendary Ronnie Spector on Springsteen's suitably Spectoresque You Mean So Much To Me. It is a wonderfully ebullient joy of a recording and concludes a most impressive debut album from a most underrated band.

This Time It's For Real (1977)

This is the second in the three classic Steve Van Zandt-Bruce Springsteen-influenced albums  from Southside Johnny and his magnificent brass-dominated backing group, The Asbury Jukes. Despite being recently remastered, it still suffers from a very muddy sound, particularly on the drums, and the remastering has not really corrected this, unfortunately. There is still some good material on the album.
This Time It's For Real is a rousing piece of horn-driven rock-soul and kicks the album off superbly. The cover of Aretha Franklin'Without Love is supremely soulful with Southside's voice on top form. Check Mr. Popeye is, unfortunately, a bit silly. Van Zandt's First Night is a doo-wop-style tearjerking ballad with excellent vocal harmonies from guest vocalist The SatinsShe Got Me Where She Wants Me is a bluesy mid-paced rocker, with a soul vocal, while Some Things Just Don't Change seems a bit messy in places, but is crammed full of soul and killer horn parts.

Little Girl So Fine evokes The Drifters beautifully (not surprising as they are on backing vocals) and has simply a sublime brass backing. Southside's voice is peerless on this too. My favourite track on the album. Van Zandt's bluesy I Ain't Got The Fever No More is an answer to Springsteen's The Fever from the debut album. Springsteen co-wrote the final two tracks - the uplifting Love On The Wrong Side Of Town and the slightly underwhelming, but impressively punchy When You Dance. This is a good album, but personally, I prefer the first and third of this excellent trio from the late seventies.

Hearts Of Stone (1978)

This is a wonderful album for all fans of Asbury Park, horn-driven rock 'n' roll from the late seventies. It contains two excellent Bruce Springsteen songs, five from E. Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt and one collaboration between the two and Southside Johnny himself. The music is energetic, vibrant and romantic, with a Motown punch and rock 'n' roll vigour. For me, it is the best album Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes recorded.
Got To Be A Better Way Home begins with a frantic drum intro, before guitars, keyboards and finally those huge, kicking horns arrive to herald in Southside's bourbon and axle grease blues rock voice. It is a great start to the album. Then it is time for some copper-bottomed Asbury Park romance in the Drifters-esque This Time Baby's Gone For Good, with its uplifting, punchy and soaring brass sections. This is late seventies Asbury Park Heaven. Van Zandt's I Played The Fool has a great Motown-influenced intro and, once again, a superb horn section-backed  chorus. Springsteen's yearning, dramatic Hearts Of Stone is sublime, Southside's version is actually better the The Boss's own cut of the track. It is the definitive version. Take It Inside starts with some searing guitar riffage and a great rock vocal from Southside. The horns, of course, are wonderful. The Boss is back on writing contribution on the catchy, singalong Talk To Me, which really should have been a huge hit single. Why it wasn't is a mystery. It is a truly great, energetic, soulful track.

Next To You is a classic Van Zandt heartbreaker with more sumptuous hornage, and Trapped Again is a slightly funky piece of rock-soul with another killer chorus and infectious guitar and keyboard intro. Finally, Van Zandt's Light Don't Shine is a romantic tearjerker to end what has been a truly enjoyable album. Highly recommended. I never tire of this album, even forty years later.

The Jukes (1979)

After three superb albums featuring songs by Steven Van Zandt and Bruce SpringsteenSouthside Johnny changed record labels from Epic to Mercury and let various band members, particularly guitarist Billy Rush, write the songs. Although not as strong as those previous classic albums, the result was actually a good album as it happens, with a lot of the romantic, horn-powered classic Asbury Park sound of those first three albums still present here. I always really liked this album.
All I Want Is Everything is a lively, rocking number to kick off the album and I'm So Anxious has a totally addictive drum sound and brass parts. Paris is a typically Asbury Park ballad with a great saxophone solo. Security is a bluesy, slow paced rocker, still driven along by those muscular horns. There is some excellent, intricate guitar on here too, something new from previous albums. Johnny's voice is impressive on here too. It has echoes of the material that featured on the band's debut album.

Living In The Real World is an energetic and melodic number with great saxophone and a singalong chorus. Check out that wonderful sax intro, then Southside's yearning, charismatic vocal. I loved this back in 1980 and I still do. Your Reply has a bass line to die for, that I had forgotten about and some killer guitar too. At the time I didn't pay this track much attention, now I appreciate its bluesy thump a lot more. The Time has another good bass line and some jazzy saxophone. Southside's vocal is jazzily confident and a bit like that he used to such great effect on 1976's The Fever
I Remember Last Night is an irrespressibly strident corker of a rocker, while Wait In Vain is a classic soulful Southside ballad. Vertigo is a guitar-driven, quirky rocker. This album was a lot better than many expected it to be without Van Zandt's input. Well worth a listen.

Love Is A Sacrifice (1980)
It is pretty difficult to get hold of this album these days, which is a shame as it is one of Southside's best "non Van Zandt-Springsteen" albums.

Dating from 1980, highlights are Restless HeartWhyLove When It's StrongOn The BeachWhy Is Love Such A Sacrifice and the beautiful, soulful Long Distance.
Musically, it is the usual attack of horns and Southside's gin-soaked bluesy voice. There are some good saxophone solos on it too and Springsteen fans will be interested to know that future E Street Band vocalists Patti Scialfa and Soozie Tyrell appear on this album as backing vocalists.

Trash It Up! (1983)

After three Asbury Park Steve Van Zandt-produced albums for the Epic label, followed by two more in the same style for Mercury, in 1983, Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes decided t d wha so many acts did between 1978 and the end of the eighties - they produced a synthesiser-baked disco/dance album. Yes, exactly. Surely not? Elton John, Queen, David Bowie, Rod Stewart, ABBA, even The Rolling Stones were ding it, so why not? The results are, however, and this is being kind, patchy to say the least.
Trash It Up is actually a good one - funky guitar lines, a convincing gritty rhythm, good hook line and a good vocal. Can't Stop Thinking Of You has a Chic-style guitar riff and lots of synth drums. It is ok, but just not really what you expect or indeed want from Southside Johnny. It has a good guitar solo in it, though. Get Your Body On The Job has a huge, deep, sonorous synthesiser backing and the instrumentation sounds like The Human League or Duran Duran. The lyrics are trite and the while thing is pretty disappointing, really. I remember buying this album at the time and trying to like it but deep down I just wanted that horn section to kick in but unfortunately there are no horns within a thousand miles of this. In the middle of this track you get a Chic meets Shalamar guitar riff. Totally fine when used by those excellent groups, but it just doesn't work on a Southside Johnny track, for me. Now, I don't mind diversification from artists like David Bowie, who are always changing styles, but poor old Southside just sounds self-conscious doing this, as if he would rather be somewhere else. I don't want to hear Southside invoking us to "work our bodies".

More synthesiser and programmed drums introduce My Baby's Touch, which has a soulful vocal from Southside but it is pretty lost beneath all the keyboards and electronic backing. 
The Beast Within has an ABBA-style classical-influenced intro before it goes all Queen on Hot Space. It is pretty much a nadir in Southside's long, otherwise distinguished career. Ain't Gonna Eat My Heart Out Anymore goes a bit heavy rock at times but it still pretty poor. Slow Burn is lifted out of the murk by a solid vocal from Southside, a punchy beat and some much-needed, badly-missed saxophone. Along with the title track, it is one of the album's better efforts. Ms. Park Avenue has some chunky guitar riffs, but is still blighted by the dominant synthesiser backing.

Thankfully, the closer, the romantic and soulful Bedtime reminds us what Southside Johnny was all about, and, despite the easy listening laid-back backing, has a typical, yearning Southside vocal. I recall at the time thinking "at last, thank goodness for that". Overall, however, this album was an unfortunate experiment best left in the vaults.

In The Heat (1984)/At Least We Got Shoes (1986)

This began a really unfortunate fallow period in the band's career. The two albums featured here were notable only for one killer cover on each one - The Temptations'
Don't Look Back on the first and The Left Banke-The Four Tops' Walk Away Renee on the second. Other than that there really aren't many tracks that rate more than mediocre or unmemorable. It is a shame to have to say that but it really is the case here.

I remember buying both of these albums and being distinctly underwhelmed and disappointed. 
Both of them are - it really pains me to say - eminently forgettable.

The mid-eighties coincided with the worst releases from many artists - The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan immediately spring to mind - and Southside Johnny was no different. I own this album but I never play it.

Slow Dance (1988)

This is ostensibly a Southside Johnny "solo" album that sees his him taken away from The Asbury Jukes and given a synthesised, polished programmed drums production. However, there are various Jukes members appearing on the album, and yes, although the sound is very eighties in its programmed nature, the album has its good points and is certainly superior to the previous three albums Southside did with The Jukes (Trash It UpIn The Heat and At Least We Got Shoes), all of which were patchy, to say the least, as I have mentioned earlier.
Southside wrote much of the material himself, which was unusual, and the songs display some potential. Highlights of his own compositions are the Jukes-ish, soulful Sirens Of The Night, the yearning Act Of Love, the romantic Slow Dance and the bluesy horn-powered groove of Little Calcutta

Smokey Robinson's Ain't That Peculiar is covered as impressively as you would expect from Southside. The opener, On The Air, is smoky and atmospheric and the Springsteen-esque closer, Walking Through Midnight, with its winning piano line, is probably the album's best track.

It is pretty difficult to get hold of this album these days, and, although it is not something that you should fork out lots of money for, if you can get hold of it cheaply, it is a good listen every now and again. Despite its eighties production and slight dated feel, you can never block your ears to Southside's voice.

Better Days (1991)

After an eighties that saw the release of some decidedly undercooked, unremarkable albums, Southside Johnny reunited with producer-songwriter Steven Van Zandt in an attempt to try and recreate the feeling of the three classic albums released in the late seventies. It was a homage to late seventies, horn-powered Asbury Parkism and was a great success. It is a rousing, punchy album and is highly enjoyable.
Coming Back, from its first horn notes is a wonderful introduction to this superb album that revisits that great late seventies Asbury Park sound. The horns blare out and Southside's gruff but soulful voice soars above them. Van Zandt's All I Needed Was You is a delight, full of Stax-ish horns and a killer vocal and chorus. A truly magnificent song. Southside is joined by old mates Van Zandt and Bruce Springsteen on the shamelessly nostalgic It's Been A Long TimeSoul's On Fire is a brooding slice of soul-rock balladry and Better Days is bluesy and upbeat, with more killer brass parts. I've Been Working So Hard sees Southside rocking it up in a classic piece of rock 'n roll blues. Ride The Night Away has a great chorus and Right To Walk Away is a classic Southside ballad. 

All Night Long brings back those huge horns before we are treated to Bruce Springsteen's excellent slow number, All The Way Home. He recorded it himself on his Devils And Dust album in a fast style which simply cannot hold a candle to Southside's beautifully romantic, Mink De Ville-style version of it. Shake 'Em Down ends the album with a muscular rocker. This has been a most enjoyable and welcome comeback from a highly-respected band.

Messin' With The Blues (2000)   
This impressive and enjoyable album, from 2000, sees New Jersey's Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes returning to their blues roots to produce an excellent album of copper-bottomed blues songs such as the stomping Gin-Soaked BoyLiving With The Blues and the excellent Cadillac Jack

Also notable is the muscular Satan's Shoes and the solid Messin' With The Blues. Southside Johnny can sing the blues with his eyes shut, so it is no ill-advised dalliance as these albums sometimes can be. It is a true labour of love. Produced by bassist Garry Tallent from Bruce Springsteen’s E St. Band, it is a proper blues album full of down 'n' dirty harmonica, throbbing bass and Southside’s "gargled in gin and axle grease" voice. The sound quality on it is outstanding too - big, full and bassy, just as it should be.

Going To Jukesville (2002)

2002’s Road To Jukesville was another "comeback" album from Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, eleven years after the excellent Better Days. It was once again completely Asbury Park-ish, with lots of saxophone and upbeat tunes.

Highlights are the wonderful, atmospheric, rocking Passion Street, the similar Baby Don't Lie, another evocative one in Lost In The Night, the funkiness of She's Still In Love and Southside’s glorious soulful voice on Gladly Go Blind and No Easy Way Down. The latter has an absolute killer saxophone solo. These are all genuine Southside classics. All the album is of a high standard, it has to be said. Southside's voice is superb throughout, if not a little gruffer and croakier with age. 

Check out Leaving Behind, yes it is an older voice, but it still has so much gin-soaked soul. Yes, the quality dips a little towards the end and (actually no, it doesn't, really, listening to it again), as with quite a few post-2000 albums, it is probably a couple of tracks too long. No real matter though, it is still an excellent album.

Into The Harbour (2005)

This is an excellent, soulful, bluesy album from Southside Johnny and, like most of post 2000 material, while not matching the glory days of the seventies, is certainly superior to his eighties output. It is one of his most "soul" albums.
The Rolling StonesHappy would seem to be tailor-made for The Jukes kicking, punchy horns and also for Southside's gritty, earthy vocal delivery. It is true. It is a great opener. Dancing On The Edge Of The World is a wonderful, anthemic-sounding piece of Asbury Park-ism. This is Southside Johnny as we have loved him for decades. His voice is yesterday, today, tomorrow. Glorious. The track sounds like a classic late sixties Temptations number. You're My Girl is solid enough, but a bit clumsy in places. The infectious bass line and soulful middle vocal section saves it however. Even on the album's comparative chuggers, Southside's voice soars above everything else.

Into The Harbour is a slow, mournful ballad with Southside's voice showing a few signs of age, but somehow that enhances the appeal of the track. 
Hang Down Your Head is a Tom Waits cover given a marvellous Jukes-style makeover, while The Time Between is a big, brassy soulful ballad. Delbert McClinton's evocative, melodic tear-jerker When Rita Leaves is just magnificent. Southside on absolute top form. I love this song. Don't Call Me Baby is a Philadelphia soul-sounding number, with some Stax horns. Tear Stained Letter is an upbeat, rockabilly-sounding romp. All In My Mind is a typical big, brassy Asbury Park rock ballad. Nothing But A Heartache brings to mind The Small FacesTin Soldier, initially, before those huge horns kick in. It also has more than a few Animals' influences in its backing. Overall, this is an enjoyable album but I have to admit I don't play it as much I do the previous one, Going To Jukesville.

Soultime! (2015)
A perfectly acceptable slice of Motown, Stax and Northern Soul-ish material from bluesy old veteran Southside Johnny. All the usual ingredients are here - blasting horns, backing vocals and Southside's trademark gravelly voice. 

The track Looking For A Good Time pretty much sums it up - Motown influenced rocker that finishes off the first four tracks of typical Southside stuff - SpinningAll I Can Do, and the punchy Don't Waste My Time. Until then there has no let up in the pace or no real change in the style of the songs. Words Fail Me sees ol' South getting all romantic as the tempo drops. Quite a beautiful song, delivered well with a lovely horn, organ, bass and piano solo bit in the middle. Lovely. Even though this album isn't really up there with is classic late 70s material he never lets you down.Walking On A Thin Line is a menacing slow cooker, bluesy horns and a bit of wah-wah guitar in there and a great vocal from the man. Very atmospheric. 

Klank is a funky instrumental. Ain't Nobody's Bizness has a great bass line and wouldn't have sounded out of place on his 1976 debut album I Don't Want To Go Home. I have realised, listening to this album for a few more times than I had initially, that it kicks rear quarters, so to speak. Also, the sound quality is better than on most Southside albums. Warmer and more bassy. Good. Then we get I'm Not That Lonely, the album's only true Southside anthem with a great chorus and his voice rising above those wonderful horns. Sometimes he truly is a gin-soaked heavenly messenger. Just listen to those horns on the fade out. The Heart Always Knows is a soulful heartbreaker. A few Buddy Holly-style strings on there. Beautiful. Reality is a tense, funky closer.

There is only one link for Southside, isn't there?  (click on the image to read the reviews) :-

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