Thursday, August 5, 2010
Album Review: Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, 'Pills and Ammo'
Artist: Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes
Title: Pills and Ammo (A Little Chaos is Good for the Soul)
Writer: Rick Galusha
If the blues is nothing more than a musical structure, a predictable amalgamation of chords and progressions, than read no further. However if the blues is a feeling, a fleeting emotion that helps defines our time on mortal coil then the latest release by Southside Johnny (Lyon) and the Asbury Jukes, ‘Pills and Ammo’ is a refreshing, powerful, hard-driving collection of songs by an unsung icon of American music.
“You take something sweet and you make it rough. You make a blood sport out of making love. No matter how low I go, I never go down enough.” ‘Lead Me On’
As an album of twelve songs, ‘Pills and Ammo’ is first and foremost a very good record. Between the grooves are passages and segue ways that use overt blues textures with horn driven R n’ B to deliver the goods. While most are familiar with New Jersey’s other” boss,” in many ways it was the Brooouce-mania that not only brought John Lyon’s band to national attention but unintentionally overshadowed an otherwise wonderful band. As the leader John Lyon chose the nickname “Southside” in homage to Chicago’s famed blues scene. “Jukes” attributed to Little Walter’s famed instrumental harmonica song. A review of the pre-Jukes sonic landscape includes other horn bands including the wonderful Stax and Hi Recordings, Chess’ Little Milton and eventually Chicago; Blood, Sweat and Tears; Chase, Electric Flag or Butterfield Blues Band’s later era recordings. Arguably Southside Johnny has taken the blues, added a bit of Jersey sand & salt (grit), and created a largely undefined but brilliant genre.
This is an album that uses the horns to propel the songs against strong vocal melody lines and intelligent lyrics. The song, ‘Strange, Strange Feeling,’ begins with a ‘Harlem Shuffle’ groove and includes the exceptional lyric line,
“My woman left me long time ago, Still sends me Christmas Card, complete with plastic snow. There’s never any return address, She’s just being kind I guess. How much further down do I have to go?”
While the only constant in this band seems to be John Lyon himself, Bobby Bandiera ably replaces Miami Steve Van Zant and Billy Rush adding subtle yet emotive guitar lines. On ‘Umbrella Drink’ Lyon is joined by fellow Springsteen friend Gary ‘U.S.’ Bonds on a New Orleans horn driven romp that is pure lively joy that devolves to include the Neville Brothers, ‘Hey Pocky Way.’ Throughout the album Lyon, a noted avid music fan hide similar musical passages including a reference to his own ’77 release, “This Times Its for Real” in the smokin’ track, ‘One More Night to Rock.’ He also lifts the blues standard ‘Walking Blues’ in this albums track, ‘Woke Up This Morning.’ Bonds and Lyon also incorporate Allen Toussiant's *(Huey Smith), 'Come on everybody take a trip with me. Down the Mississippi, down to New Orleans' on 'Umbrella In My Drink."
If the album’s opening track, ‘Harder than It Looks’ refers to Lyon’s often struggling thirty-five professional career, then the album’s three closing tracks puts a stake in the ground for this powerful and revitalized performer; ‘Keep on Moving,’ ‘You Can’t Bury Me,’ and the powerful nostalgic ‘Thank You.’
This is not an album for blues purist but the vast majority of blues fans will eat up this album with a fork and spoon. The melody lines are rich, the arrangements are excellent and the band plays for the songs. If you have albums that are your ‘Saturday night special’ or a ‘Sunday morning wake-up call,’ this is your ‘jump in the car and drive’ record that pounds on your door. Blues deejays could ‘drop the needle’ on just about any track but if you show lean traditional try the third track, ‘Woke Up This Morning.’ If you are looking for texture in your show, ‘Harder than It Looks’ or ‘Cross the Line’ are propelling. The closing ballad, ‘Thank You’ shares a common ‘look back in fondness’ an over 40 audience will easily relate to.
Besides anyone that can include, “I think Mkultra is messing with my mind” deserves accolades.
[“Mkultra was the code name for a covert, illegal CIA human research program, run by the Office of Scientific Intelligence” which began in the 1950’s, “continuing at least through the late 1960s, and it used U.S. and Canadian citizens as its test subjects.” (LSD was used in this program.)]