Southside Johnny And The Asbury Jukes hardly need an introduction from me. With a body of work consisting of 25 releases with the Jukes alone, Southside Johnny Lyon has left quite a mark on the rock and roll world. Southside has also released several solo records, and releases with LaBamba’s big band, and one with the Poor Fools. He has also released other projects with Gary U.S. Bonds, Rusty Cloud, Killer Joe and several illustrious others.
And while his associations with some of rock’s biggest names have been going strong for many years, Southside Johnny And The Asbury Jukes have paved the way for a specific sound not duplicated by anyone else in rock music today.
Keeping in line with that tradition, Southside Johnny And The Asbury Jukes celebrate the release of their first all-original record in over five years with Soultime! The new CD was written and produced by Jeff Kazee and Johnny Lyon and was recorded at Lakehouse Recording Studios in the Jukes’ hometown of Asbury Park. Soultime! celebrates the transformative power of ’70s soul music and represents a return to, as Southside sings, “Just letting the music take us away.”
Southside tells us how he came up with the idea for Soultime! “I was pushing my cart around (in one of the big superstores) minding my own business when I got to the liquors and wines. Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Superfly’ started to play and I noticed people’s reaction to it. And right then I thought, ‘It’s time to make people feel good again.'” The goal of Soultime! is to encapsulate everything that fans cherish about Southside Johnny And The Asbury Jukes. The pattern of horns plus rhythm, each song, painted with catchy choruses, top-notch string arrangements, and gospel-charged vocals keep right on coming on this 11-song set from the band. Soultime! speaks to us of our past in the present.
So, according to my labor intense way of describing individual tunes, I’ll be attempting to bring Soultime! to all of our readers through descriptive prose.
Up first is “Spinning.” Southside jumps into the fray with this funky R&B jewel without hesitation. Bassist John Conte works in tandem with Tom Seguso, providing the meat on this musical bone and giving Kazee and guitarist Glenn Alexander plenty of room to soar as horn players Chris Anderson (trumpet), John Isley (saxophone), and Neal Prawley (trombone) supply tasty meter to Lyon’s gruff and rambunctious vocal work. Reminiscent of Junior Walker and his All Stars, “Spinning” catches a heady groove and keeps you firmly within its grasp from first note till last.
Up next is “All I Can Do.” Mixing the influential sounds of Isaac Hayes and David Porter, Johnny lays down intricate grittiness that summon the heady days of Sam & Dave. The sax solo provided by John Isley rips into the middle-eight reminds me of Charles “Packy” Axton and Don Nix from the Mar-keys. Guitar work of Glenn Alexander comes off with elegant simplicity, chirping out blues licks and R&B chords while Kazee shovels understated keyboard work all over the background. Lyon’s voice is raw and gritty tone at its best. The choruses are catchy and well-written measures of solid gold. If you long for the days of pop-based R&B kings like Sam & Dave, the Mar-keys or The Famous Flames, you’re going to love “All I Can Do.”
Up next is “Don’t Waste My Time.” Southside and the crew take a trip down 1960s gospel-influenced R&B here. Lyon throws out down-home vocal style from first note to last, bringing back memories of The Band as he sounds the harmonica alarm like few others can. Horn arrangements are fluid and melodic as is the keyboard work of Kazee. Choruses are simple blasts of fluid and memorable communication. The middle-eight horn work of Neal Prawley reminds me of Mick Gillette from Tower Of Power.
“Looking For A Good Time” cuts through the mix like anything from the days of Sly And The Family Stone. Arrangements here are powerful and harmonically sound. Backing vocals are lively and melodic as hell. Alexander’s rhythmic guitar work is on par with Steve Cropper’s early days with Booker T & The MG’s. Upbeat and groove-dominated, “Looking For A Good Time” is yet another standout track on this fabulous disc.
“Words Fail Me” slips into the listening field next. Lyon’s vocal prowess shines brightly on this laid-back number. You can hear the emotional feeling in his vocal delivery here. Opening lyrical communication states, “The kids are gone, the coffee’s on, she stumbles down in all her morning glory. This gift to me, such a sight to see. She rubs my neck, said she had a dream, I sit back and listen to her story. Sunlight glances off her cheek, I hear her laugh, I try to speak, words fail me.” Glenn Alexander’s opening guitar riffs are bluesy and understated brilliance. Kazee hangs back while Anderson, Isley, and Prawley lay down Isaac Hayes-styled arrangements throughout.
“Walking On A Thin Line” drips and oozes with the 1970s soul sounds of Curtis Mayfield. John Conte’s bass work rumbles underneath the horns of Anderson, Isley, and Prawley as Seguso nails this smoky number straight to the floor. Lyon’s raspy demeanor lends a solid air of R&B style to this interesting number. His delivery is a steamy look back into a time frame where great musicians and singers roamed the earth with a purpose. Lyrical subject matter questions the actions of someone playing with fire. Alexander is back again with some lethal dose of bare bones guitar magic and reminds me of Mayfield himself as he sounds off throughout the piece.
“Ain’t None Of My Business” describes the fundamental actions of different individuals and the things they love to do. Lyon goes through several characters in the song as he lays down his distinct brand of gritty howling. Seguso slaps at his four on the floor delivery as Conte plunks simple lines underneath. Horns blast in arranged unison as the background singers add to the joyous noise. Kazee layers organs and pianos with an easy, no frills method as Alexander scratches and trills. Lyon sums things up as he sings, “Now I might drink a little too much wine. All about a Saturday night, I don’t want no church lady saying, ‘Lord, it’s not right,’ Because it ain’t none of her bizness what old Johnny do.”
“I’m Not That Lonely” is up next. Southside and crew pour their heart and soul into this cut like no one else. Horns bleat and push the air with measured compositional excellence. Acting like a platform, they clear the way for Lyon to do his thing. His vocal delivery is on par with Tom Waits here. Gruff, raw and frazzled in the best of ways, Lyon waxes poetic on the woes of the relationship pursuit. Trumpet work, courtesy of Chris Anderson, dominates the track with his Lee Loughnane (Chicago) style.
“Reality” is the final cut on the disc. Utilizing a style mix of Bobby Womack and Curtis Mayfield, “Reality” huffs and puffs like the little engine that could. Combined horn arrangements and keyboard work of Jeff Kazee put “Reality” onto the fast track of musical success. Lyon’s lyrical imagery is stark and real as he sings, “You comb your hair and wash your face, Trudge on down to the same damn place. That ain’t work—it’s drudgery. Sometimes it feels like slavery.” Kazee’s keyboard middle eight is pure 1970s synthesizer magic. This song reminds me of something I might have heard on an episode of Kojak. Whether the band cares for commercial success or they don’t, this song has all the makings of a classic R&B track. The ending section sees horns, keyboards and rhythm sections pinging off of each other as they fade to black.
Southside Johnny And The Asbury Jukes have always had a certain level of consistency when it comes to their musical offerings, but Soultime! brings them to a completely different level and delivers genuine R&B-soaked soul right from the Jersey Shore. Southside Johnny And The Asbury Jukes will continue to tour throughout the country and Soultime! is available at their website as well as iTunes and other musical outlets.
For more information on Soultime! and the band, head over to southsidejohnny.com.