CD Review: Southside Johnny With Labamba's Big Band 'Grapefruit Moon'

Southside Johnny Lyon's "Grapefruit Moon" is a powerful big-band salute to Tom Waits.
Southside Johnny Lyon's "Grapefruit Moon" is a powerful big-band salute to Tom Waits.
Friday, May 22, 2009


Kindred spirits: Ray Charles, Boz Scaggs, Randy Newman Show: Southside Johnny Lyon with the Asbury Jukes on Thursday at the Birchmere. 7:30 p.m. 703-549-7500.

Don't be surprised if big slices of "Grapefruit Moon," Southside Johnny Lyon's big-band tribute to Tom Waits, leave you wishing that someone had produced a similar project for Ray Charles. Wouldn't he have been inspired by the album's vividly drawn songs and brassy orchestrations, especially when arranger Richie "LaBamba" Rosenberg pulls out all the stops on "Down, Down, Down," "Please Call Me, Baby" and other treats drawn from the Waits catalogue?

Certainly the songs and the settings bring out the best in Lyon, not to mention the opportunity to share a duet with the composer himself during a chummy, swaggering, polyphonic arrangement of "Walk Away." The lyrics demand a lot from a vocalist -- soul, power, personality and finesse, for starters -- and Lyon consistently delivers, supported by arrangements that blend large ensemble thrust and jazz solos with R&B touches, including blues harmonica and stinging lead-guitar work.

Some of Waits's best-known tunes are freshly framed by Rosenberg and swiftly personalized by Lyon, including "New Coat of Paint" and "Shiver Me Timbers." But it's also a pleasure to hear Lyon unearth lesser-known gems such as "Dead and Lovely," a terse, noir-inspired vignette that features one of Waits's pitch-perfect lyrics: "She made up someone to be/She made up somewhere to be from."

-- Mike Joyce

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