New Jersey music continues to progress at a brisk pace. The evolution of creativity is a journey that shuttles us through the travails of ardent and tumultuous times and introduces us to the good, the bad, and the ugly of popular culture and our own special brand of interactive response. From basements and garages, to soundstages and worldwide theaters, generations of shore talent have taken the shot to shine in their own way, creating wide platforms for bigger and better opportunities for future generations. These modern day troubadours take to the stage, studio and the open road in the name of leaving an updated East Coast legacy.
“Drive” is the keyword that is seeing more and more application in the music scene these days. Gone are the existence of “fair” bands or “so-so” musicians. Everyone I meet is at the top of their game today. Suited up and in the chute, they grasp their musical futures like a leather bridle on a 1,900-pound Brahman bull. There is no room for mediocrity or apathy in the entertainment business today, and everyone knows it.
New Jersey has always had a lot to prove. With local musicians being saddled with Springsteen and Bon Jovi comparisons for simply being from the same state, it’s no wonder most Garden State mavericks bristle at the mention of seaside labels and comparisons. New Jersey artists have to work much harder than most to prove their originality and talent. The Jersey Shore label has quite the sordid reputation, and there’s only one way to soothe those carbuncle comparisons: be the absolute best at what you do, and only do what comes from the heart.
Featuring a style most comparable to nothing from New Jersey (OK, well maybe a little Kool And The Gang arrangement prowess), The Shady Street Show Band is a perfect example of that lone wolf originality. This four-piece turned septet live follows the traditional pathway of bands such as Supertramp, Tower Of Power, Joe Cocker, Randy Newman, The Band and many, many more.
TSSSB is a group that understands the restrained elegance of a respectful nod to the past while stopping short of mimeographing those monstrous pioneers. Instead, they embrace influential, razor sharp basics and use them to plough their very own roads to glory. Cut straight out of a complex and commune-styled imagination, Ryan Gregg and Zac Silva forge ahead into the wonderful worlds of R&B, soul, and Americana muscle. The core of this “Shady” circus also includes AJ on drums, Russ Eia on bass, and a veritable cornucopia of guest singers, guitarists, horn players and others that join this powerful band on stage and in studio.
The band’s eponymous record, The Shady Street Show Band, is a quick, lucky seven tour through the life bursting experiences of New Jersey’s latest significant addition to the scene.
The Shady Street Show Band echoes what I said earlier about standard of talent. Firing into the listener’s soundscape the band goes for the “hit first and hit hardest” approach when it comes to wowing die-hard followers and the newbies they suck in the door.
The group starts the engine with “Intro.” Gurgling organs whirl under powerhouse brass as the band sashays down its welcoming road of raw and formidable know-how.
“Grin” rings in with its Red Hot Chili Peppers meets Booker T. & The M.G.’s soul attack. Melodic and catchy, the song is governed by the toned vocal prowess of Ryan Gregg. Gregg makes everything he does look like an effortless romp in the archetypal park. Easy and breezy, his vocals are the commanding piece of this very intricate compositional puzzle. Background vocals are grouped into large, chorister barrages of redemption and deliverance as guitars pull off Steve Cropper accents and augmented, open-voiced elements.
Taking another pass at the EP, “Hammer” is a song that comes closest to that Supertramp reflection I felt at the live show. The band comes right to the edge of Tramp mega hit, “Goodbye Stranger,” but just when you think they’re gonna fall over the edge of melodic idolatry, they switch directions and drop the “hammer” with a fuel-injected directional bridge. Melodies are crafty and pack a full punch. Dylan-esque electric pianos push through the core of lush, double guitar harmonies and dynamic brass orchestrations. Special mention goes to the arrangement savvy of Gregg and Silva, who write all the horn sections for their revolving group of brass assassins.
“Growing To Stand The Sight Of You” slinks into the clearing with a Cab Callaway meets Tom Waits caterwaul. Horns slither up and down greasy, hot scales as drums and bass pound this provocative Zoot Suit riot right into the floorboards. The addictive juxtaposition of Gregg and former TSSSB vocalist Ashley Markowitz is standout and harmonious. Guitars raise fur as they dig into the precision, conveyor belt action of brass and rhythm. The verse turn of Markowitz had me going for the cold shower as she breathlessly crooned and growled her cadenced magic over the palpitating body of this spooky, dusky jazz blues gem.
The last song on the disc is one of their most powerful. “Don’t Be Fooled By The Rain” limbers up and struts into that upstate flavored playing field of laid-back tenacity. Brass is metered perfection, tumbling sleepily into the piece with a pocketed, Randy Newman inventiveness. Guitar work is reined in tight but dynamic, pulling out single-note, blues-based licks and following the melody into thematic refrain. Gregg’s middle-eight piano work brings forth images of Leon Russell and Charlie Rich. His expansive overflow of block chord anchoring and melody support is some of the best in the Tri-State sector.
The Shady Street Show Band is a schooled group that hails from the days of organic and sweat-soaked, rock and roll urgency. This is a band that is proving that people still have keen interest in something besides Auto-Tuned laziness and drama-filled teenage pop deluges that clog our social media sensibilities. Seriously, if I hear one more grown man compare Kanye West to The Beatles or overhear some dopey, music scene invader gushing about the intricacies of Hannah Diamond, I’m going to organize a tar and feather party.
Just for the fun of it, here are all the folks that played with the band live at The Wonder Bar celebration. Take a bow, folks: AJ Dumm – drums; Zac Silva – guitar and vocals; Zack Loria – guitar and backing vocals; Russ Eia – bass and vocals; Ryan Gregg – keyboards and lead vocals; (horn section subject to change at any gig, but horns last night were) Henry Tirfe – tenor sax; Alex Wolfe – trumpet; Mike Rilli – trombone. I also want to give a heads up to Roshane Karunaratne, who was filling in for an absent band member.
If you crave the opportunity to see the band live, look no further than this column. They will be appearing at The Saint on March 20 (Elm Three Presents The Renegade Review) along with Karmic Juggernaut and Matt Wade’s band. The Saint is located on Main Street in Asbury Park. thesaintnj.com
For more information on The Shady Street Show Band and the myriad of players that make up the family, head over to theshadystreetshowband.com.