An enthusiastic audience combined with a solid band performing a legendary album filled with great songs propels Steve Forbert’s Jackrabbit Slim Live In Asbury Park into a memorable, energetic recreation of the record that cemented the folk singer’s ‘small-town guy arrives in the big city’ reputation as an observant, philosophical wordsmith.
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The new record, released today via Blue Rose in association with Time Life, celebrates the 40th anniversary of Forbert’s sophomore outing, which contained the instantly memorable Top 20 hit, “Romeo’s Tune” and “January 23-30, 1978,” with its existential line, “It’s often said that life is strange, oh yes, but compared to what?” The performance and rearview mirror perspective give Forbert’s heartfelt and topical lyrics, including additional verses to “Complications” and the bonus track “The Oil Song,” a renewed urgency.
Watch “Romeo’s Tune” from Jackrabbit Slim Live In Asbury Park below:
The new live performance, featuring his band the New Renditions, was recorded at the House of Independents in Asbury Park, New Jersey, with video directed by Tom Parr. Though the winter weather was gloomy, it didn’t damper the spirits of the audience, the band, or the instruments.
“It was an afternoon show and it was an after-show event for the Light of Day festival (charity for Parkinson’s research), which allowed us to join in their general publicity and sell out the venue. It was pouring rain, but it was one of those days where the audience was just fine in there.”
“Recreating an album on stage is a little like performing a play, it has to be a certain way. The audience clearly has a more defined sort of expectation.”
Forbert is a meticulous musician who spends time getting the sound right, be it his guitars, the drum sound or the artful work of a decent mixing engineer. “To me, it matters how well the guitars are staying in tune. I normally play a ’49 Gibson SJ and this was a day where ole Gibs was happy and things sounded good. And there’s a lot of energy in what flew off the engineer’s fingertips in mixing the house and going with the flow. I went with it like it was. It’s got plenty of what we call apparent volume happening.”
Full album recreations and anniversary celebrations of seminal records have become the rage in the last decade, primarily for existing fans but also as a way to enlighten younger fans to the importance and significance of an artists’ body of work.
The seed for Jackrabbit Slim Live In Asbury Park took place in late 2019 when Forbert was asked by Jeremy Tepper of (SiriusXM) Outlaw Country Radio to bring his band in and play all the songs from Jackrabbit Slim, which led to a recent vinyl reissue of the 1979 record. Forbert had contemplated taking the band on the road for full performances of the record but the economics of touring didn’t make it viable, as much as his fans and promoters wanted to make it happen.
“It wasn’t feasible, so we did an album release show at the Iridium in New York and then a few other East Coast shows, including Asbury Park. We got lucky. Everything gelled at the House of Independents show. It sounded good and the audience gave it a good feeling. And the instruments stayed in tune!”
Forbert is, of course, famously known as the small-town folkie who took the big city by storm in the late ‘70s, hailing from Meridian, Mississippi, hometown of country legend Jimmie Rodgers and underrated songwriter Paul Davis (“I Go Crazy,” “Cool Night,” “’65 Love Affair”). Forbert paid tribute to Rodgers with 2002’s Any Old Time and references Davis’ “soulful” Bang and Malaco Records recordings as influential.
On Jackrabbit Slim Live In Asbury Park, Forbert’s band consists of “all New Jersey boys,” including Caleb Estey on drums, Todd Lanka on upright bass, Dave Biglin on keys and George Naha on guitar. Forbert can count himself as a longtime New Jersey resident, and loves the area for many reasons, including its proximity to major cities like New York, Washington DC, Philadelphia and Boston. “I spent years living in Nashville and took many flights, but getting more involved here in New Jersey, it’s the best area for this kind of music. What I do doesn’t translate on the West Coast for some reason. It’s great to be able to get into the car and drive to Scranton, PA or Kennett Square.”
“To me, the challenge of songwriting is to create something that will stand the test of time,” says Forbert. “The Jackrabbit Slim LP is hanging in there pretty well. After 40 years, people tell me the songs on this record still have an emotional resonance for them – one that’s not just a nostalgia thing.”
Jackrabbit Slim Live In Asbury Park is available on all streaming platforms here.