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Music Review: Southside Johnny with LaBamba’s Big Band – Grapefruit Moon: The Songs of Tom Waits

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There are times when a person experiences moments of such extreme happiness that it's difficult to contain the emotion. I suspect that even the most curmudgeonly people have them. I should know, because I have my moments of curmudgeon on a daily basis. Anyway…for me, this "super-happy" can feel like the top of my head popped off, letting a stream of brightly-colored prayer flags out, the message of bliss radiating out to the rest of the world.

Music does this to me. A lot. Just the right melodic fragment, lyric, chord change, or bit of concert magic can send me off. Examples? Emmylou Harris offering up those angelic harmonies during a live version of "The Maker," Norah singing "love in the time of war is not fair" on Not Too Late's "Wish I Could," the time I was invited on stage to play guitar during "All I Want Is Everything" at a Southside Johnny show (OK, this never happened, but I like saying it because it makes me all tingly), Tom Waits tossing that handful of glitter in the air as "Jockey Full of Bourbon" went into the chorus.

Those last two items are instructive as both Tom Waits and Southside Johnny sit very near the top of my favorite artists list. When I found out that Southside was working on a Waits covers album, the news seemed almost too good to be true. Heck, the wait was so long that many fans began to think that the project was a figment of Southside's twisted and snarky sense of humor. Well, I'm here to report that the combination of Waits' tunes, Southside's enthused growl, and Richie "LaBamba" Rosenberg's fabulous horn charts have finally arrived to scare away any wiggling air molecules left over from the Scarlett Johansson debacle.

There are so many highlights that it's tough to pick a starting point. "Down, Down, Down" blasts away with electrifying unison harmonica and guitar lines, a swinging vocal delivery by Mr. Lyon, all lifted higher with solo turns by Southside, Bobby Bandiera (on guitar) and some thermonuclear horns. "Dead and Lovely" begins with a bit of Western saloon piano before the horns blow everybody out through those swinging doors. Southside steps back in to deliver a soulful vocal supported by just a little percussion and twangy guitar. "Temptation" is delivered all slow and sultry, with a harpsichord circling in the background. The big twist comes near the end when a huge chorus steps in and the song turns Latin, as if Eddie Palmieri had walked through the door. Props to Mark Pender for a piercing trumpet solo.

Some might complain that most of Waits' biggest "hits" (a funny concept with Tom Waits) were not included here but, in truth, this is one of Grapefruit Moon's strengths. While it would have been interesting to hear the fun to be had with "Sixteen Shells from a Thirty-Ought Six," "Downtown Train," and "Jersey Girl," is that something we really needed to hear? Sure, with perfect hindsight, I can say that I would have missed the secret agent man vibe of "All The Time In The World," Southside's searching vocal on "Johnsburg, Illinois," and the shimmering horns of "Shiver Me Timbers."

On the other hand, it's not like the Tom Waits deal was completely abandoned. Listen no further than "Walk Away," a bluesy Southside/Waits duet. Some would say that neither man has was would be normally considered a "beautiful" voice, and yet my ears tell me this is the album's center. It swaggers. It struts. Best of all, those two voices employ that mysterious musical alchemy to create something else. I can just feel my bliss radiating!

You want to experience some extreme happiness? Check out Grapefruit Moon. Just because the top of my head has temporarily popped off is no reason to ignore this advice.

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About Mark Saleski

  • Well, Mark, I will probably never have the chance again to get back to the topic of singing Hollywood actresses, won’t miss it much though – but since that kind of name dropping in the time of Google still does a lot for the ranking, Southside – kind of, has to thank you for that. Here’s hoping that uncle John invites you to the stage very soon… you deserve the reward!… “All I Want Is Everything”… nothing less!

    Great review! Absolutely!

  • Jennifer

    Absolutely fabulous review, of a fabulous album. Yes, my head is popping off, letting a stream of brightly-colored prayer flags out, the message of bliss radiating out to the rest of the world.

  • Brian

    Picked up the cd in Jack’s in Red Bank on Saturday and love the album — especially the James Bondish “All the Time in the World.” Looking forward for a chance to hear it all live. Perhaps at the New Year’s Eve Show this year at Red Bank NJ’s Count Basie Theatre.

  • here ya go tom:

    Session 1 – recorded live June 5th and June 6th, 2005 at Sanctuary
    Sound II, New Jersey
    Session 2 – recorded live October 15th 2005 at Sanctuary Sound II,
    New Jersey
    Session 3 – recorded live May 3rd, 2006 at Avatar, NYC

    Session 4 – recorded live December12th, 2006 at Avatar, NYC



    Frank Elmo-Alto & Soprano Sax-Flute Sessions 1,2,3,4
    Baron Raymonde-Alto Sax-Flute Session 1,4
    Erik Lawrence-Alto Sax-Flute Session 2
    Jack Bashkow-Alto Sax-Flute-Bass Clarinet Session 3
    Jerry Vivino-Tenor Sax-Flute-Alto Flute-Clarinet Sessions 2,3,4
    Sam Bortka-Tenor Sax-Flute-Clarinet Session 1
    Timmy Cappello-Tenor & Soprano Sax Sessions 1,2,3,4
    Eddie Manion-Baritone Sax-Flute-Clarinet Sessions 1,2,3,4


    Brian Pastor Sessions 1,2,3
    Nathan Mayland Sessions 1,2,3,4
    Matt Bilyk Bass Trombone Session 2
    Jeff Bush Session 4
    Ben Williams Session 2
    Clarence Banks Session 1
    Art Baron Sessions 3,4
    Jonathan Shubert Bass Trombone Sessions 3,4
    Aaron Johnson Bass Trombone Session 1
    Marcus Rojas Tuba Session 2


    Mark Pender Sessions 1,2,3,4
    Chris Anderson Sessions 1,2,3,4
    Mike Spengler Sessions 1,2,3,4
    John Barry Sessions 1,2
    Stu Satalof Sessions 3,4

    Rhythm Section

    Scott Healy-Piano-Harpsichord Sessions 2,3,4
    Michael Mancini – Piano Session 1
    Glenn Alexander-Guitars-Mandolin-Dobro Sessions 1,2,3,4
    Mike Merritt-Bass Sessions 1,2,3,4
    Shawn Pelton- Drums and Percussion Sessions 2,3,4
    Ray Marchica- Drums Sessions 1

    Additional Musicians

    Jeff Kazee – Hammond B3 Organ on Temptation
    Howard Johnson – Tuba on Grapefruit Moon and Tango Till They’re Sore
    John Ballesteros – Percussion on Temptation
    Sue Hadjapoulos – Bongos on Dead and Lovely
    Sean Grissom – Cajun Cello on Tango Till They’re Sore
    Charlie Giordano – Accordion on Shiver Me Timbers

  • tom

    Who are the musicians who did the session?

  • Lisa Solod Warren

    Scarlett J. cannot act but she does have a great mouth. This sounds like a wonderful album. Goes on MY list for sure.
    (I know nothing about clones, although I feel sure I have met some at some time in my life:))

  • Wow. Did Saleski just make a new friend?


  • Serge

    I would like inform you that Scarlett Johansson (actress)actually is a clone from original person,who has nothing with acting career.Clone was created illegally by using stolen biomaterial. Original Scarlett Galabekian last name is nice, CHRISTIAN young lady.I’ll tell you more,those clones(it’s not only one)made in GERMANY-world leader manufacturer of humans clones,it is in Ludwigshafen am Rhein,N. Bavaria, Mr. Helmut Kohl home town.You can’t even imaging the scale of the cloning activity.But warning. H. Kohl clone staff 100% controlling their clones spreading around the world,they are very accurate with that, some of them are still NAZI type disciplined and mind controlled clones,be careful get close with clones you will be controlled too.Original family did not authorize any activity with stolen biological materials,no matter what form it was created,it all needs back to original family control to Cedars-Sinai MedicalCenter in LA.Original Scarlett is not engage,by the way.

  • Sounds like a great album. And thanks for linking to my coverage of the “debacle”…