Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes
The Fever/The Remastered Epic Recordings
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Members of his backing Jukes have come and gone throughout the decades but the blueprint Southside Johnny Lyon created on his first three albums circa 1976-’78 hasn’t changed in the nearly forty years after their release. The soul, blues, R&B and horn-enhanced rock and roll on the trio of studio and one flame-throwing live show included in this freshly remastered double disc sounds as crisp and crackling today — arguably more so due to the aural overhaul — as when these Steve Van Zandt-produced platters hit the streets.
Johnny has never been much of a songwriter – he gets co-writing credit on only one of these 40 tracks — but who cares when he had the talents of Van Zandt and fellow Jersey-ite Bruce Springsteen to help provide original material. Add that to smartly chosen, often obscure covers from Clarence Carter (“Snatchin’ It Back”), Steve Cropper (Sam & Dave’s “Broke Down Piece of Man”), Ray Charles (“I Choose to Sing the Blues”) and others for a vicious three album run that has yet to be equaled in Johnny’s lengthy career.
With all due respect to producer Van Zandt who, for the most part, captured the band’s frantic energy in the studio, the sound on these selections was thin if not quite anemic. Lyon’s tough vocals and the raw, gripping backing from the revolving door membership of his Jukes, in addition to terrific material was enough to overlook the somewhat lackluster mix. That hasn’t been totally repaired on these remasters but the clarity, separation and instrumental presence is a vast improvement over the stock CDs that should, in a perfect world, be removed from the market to be replaced with this far improved compilation.
Springsteen fans know his songwriting, especially during this period, was based in the rugged soul that he and Lyon used to play in Jersey clubs and pulsed at the heart of Lyon’s approach. That’s certainly the case with the song that gives this set its name as a highlight. But Springsteen’s three contributions, including the title track, to the substantially darker and more introspective Hearts of Stone, featuring the jittery “Talk to Me,” remain some of his finest writing for another act.
The inclusion of 1976’s heavily bootlegged, promo only, professionally recorded Jukes Live at the Bottom Line, also in buffed-up audio, is a logical and superb bonus to a package that, with its new notes (including a recent Lyon interview), delivers plenty of bang for the buck. Each platter is loaded to bursting with nearly 80 minutes of music and you’d be hard pressed to find any filler or lackluster moments throughout. Those new to the Asbury Jukes experience should start here, and even established fans might want to ditch their old CDs for this long overdue upgrade.