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Grapefruit Moon: The Songs of Tom Waits by Southside Johnny

With like-minded attitudes toward lyrics, Americana and life expericences, Southside Johnny and Tom Waits seem to have been naturals for teaming up on a joint project. After much planning and work, they finally have. A long-time admirer of Waits’ songs, Southside Johnny chose 12 of Waits’ most personally appealing songs and collaborated with Richie "La Bamba" Rosenberg to add powerhouse 13-piece band arrangements on each of the tracks. The combination is irresistible. Underappreciated by the broader listening public, Waits’ music remains unconventional and full of detailed narrative situations and quirky observations that are similar in memorability, yet very different from, Dave Frishberg’s. Southside Johnny captures the fun-loving spirit of the music throughout the album. And La Bamba’s Big Band actually enhances the effectiveness of Southside’s musical presentations, rather than detracting from them, the band’s heat contrasting with his cool.

It appears that Southside Johnny and Rosenberg spent much time making sure they develop fresh musical approaches to each of Waits’ songs. For example, the jauntiness of "Dead and Lovely" compares with the casual sway of the rlush eminiscing waltz "Shiver Me Timbers," which contrasts yet again with the irrepressible force and finger-snapping swing of "Down, Down, Down." Such considerations attest to the arrangers’ appreciation of the widely varied content of Waits’ lyrics, and excitement ensues. The ruefulness of "Yesterday Is Here’s" sentiment "today is gray skies, tomorrow is tears, you have to wait ‘til, yesterday is here" makes natural an underplayed three-four minor-key accompaniment, which builds also to the final lyrical paradox. Oddly enough, "All the Time in the World" takes inspiration from John Barry’s James Bond themes with its twanging guitars and pulsating electric bass lines, and Southside digs into the opportunity with wit and verve. "New Coat of Paint" requires brassy swagger and strut with a strong backbeat to make sure that no one misses the point as Southside sings "New coat of paint / On this lonesome old town / Set ‘em up / We’ll know ‘em on down." "Johnsburg, Illinois," on the other hand, is almost completely a story told in song, and it begins with an evocative cadenza before Southside briefly recalls in less than two minutes "my only true love / is all that I think of."

The highlight of Grapefruit Moon occurs with Tom Waits joins Southside Johnny on "Walk Away," a song that allows like-minded give-and-talk and a lot of fun too. Despite the differences in their voices Waits’ gritty and Southside’s unpredictably varied they join in insouciant conversation and unison delivery of lyrics.

Despite the special nature of the Southside Johnny’s exploration of Waits’ music, Rosenberg’s band, with its outstanding soloists and unified feel for the music, can’t be given enough credit for the success of the album as well. Indeed some of the musicians from the Conan O’Brien house band including Rosenberg, Jerry Vivino and Mark Pender share memorable solos on the recording. Grapefruit Moon is without a doubt a treat, well produced, thoughtful, engaging and thoroughly enjoyable.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Southside Johnny
  • CD Title: Grapefruit Moon: The Songs of Tom Waits
  • Genre: Jazz Vocals
  • Year Released: 2008
  • Record Label: Leroy Records
  • Tracks: Yesterday Is Here, Down Down Down, Walk Away, Please Call Me Baby, Grapefruit Moon, All The Time In The World, Tango Till They’re Sore, Johnsburg Illinois, New Coat Of Paint, Shiver Me Timbers, Dead And Lovely, Temptation
  • Musicians: Southside Johnny (vocals, harmonica); Richie “Labamba” Rosenberg (arranger, conductor); Frank Elmo, Baron Raymonde, Erik Lawrence, Jack Bashkow, Jerry Vivino, Sam Bortka, Timmy Cappello, Eddie Manion (woodwinds); Mark Pender, Chris Anderson, Mike Spengler, John Barry, Stu Satalof (trumpet, flugelhorn); Brian Pastor, Nathan Mayland, Matt Bilyk, Jeff Bush, Ben Williams, Clarence Banks, Art Baron, Jonathan Shubert, Aaron Johnson (trombones); Marcus Rojas, Howard Johnson (tuba); Scott Healy, Michael Mancini (piano); Jeff Kazee (Hammond B-3 organ); Charlie Giordano (accordion); Glenn Alexander (guitar); Sean Grissom (Cajun cello); Mike Merritt (bass); Shawn Pelton, Ray Marchica (drums); John Ballesteros (percussion); Sue Hadjapoulos (bongos)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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