By Frank Alkyer | Published March 2021
Here’s one that makes you say, “Don’t blink, time passes too quickly.” Back in 2008, Southside Johnny, the godfather of blue-eyed soul from the Jersey Shore, produced a DIY pet project—him, singing the songs of Tom Waits with a big band. It was an ambitious project, probably too ambitious for the DIY nature of this beast.
But he did it, and it turned out to be a beautiful beast—the music, unparalleled; the musicianship, incredible; Southside, at his full-throated, barroom bard best.
Johnny had a secret weapon, an accomplice, on this improbable journey. Richard “LaBamba” Rosenberg—the multi-talented trombonist best known for his work in the Late Night with Conan O’Brien band as well as touring with the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes—turns out to be an amazing arranger. And his work on this record shimmers.
With all that buildup, the project never got its due, but it did get a feature in DownBeat by this writer, which you can read HERE. As a result, it’s great to see, some 13 years later, the folks at Pacific Records have lovingly remastered, reissued and breathed new life into the project. Bravo to all on this one, and special credit goes out to Sascha Peterfreund, the remaster engineer on this project.
The sound has been completely revamped. The horns, rhythm section and Johnny’s voice are crisper, cleaner and more nuanced. It’s the way this album was meant to sound. The 12 tracks include some of Waits’ more memorable tunes—“Yesterday Is Here,” “Down, Down, Down,” “Grapefruit Moon,” “Tango Till They’re Sore” and “Shiver Me Timbers,” to name a few. Tom Waits himself joins Johnny for a vampy dance around “Walk Away.”
As a bonus track, LaBamba and Johnny dish a live duet on “Straight Up To The Top,” a swinging romp of big-band brawn and beauty that would be amazing to experience in a festival setting.