So "they just don't make records like that anymore" - "that" in this case being the compact, romantic horn-laden little rhythm 'n' blues numbers that used to dominate the Top 40 during the golden age of Phil Spector. Well, it's just not true, and anyone who thinks it is obviously hasn't been introduced to Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes' "This Time It's For Real (Epic PE 34668).
As a kid, Johnny Lyon - the nickname "Southside" came later, given to him by Bruce Springsteen and "Miami" Steve Van Zandt, guitarist in Springsteen's E Street Band - was raised on a diet of r 'n' b, radio and records. So it's not surprising that when he and the Jukes got a recording contract and left the Jersey bar band circuit behind, one of the first things they did was to recruit Lee Dorsey and Ronnie Spector, once of the Ronettes, to help out on their first album.
There's still some of that wide-eyed hero worship present on "This Time It's For Real," the Jukes' second ablum, but only a little. Although the Coasters, the Drifters and the Five Satins, three of the biggest vocal groups of the late '50s and early '60s, each make an appearance on the new record - which, like the first, is produced by ex-Juke Van Zandt - they're featured in a supporting, not leading, role singing harmony vocals.
The real stars of the album are the Jukes' horn section, five men strong, and producer Van Zandt, who in addition to trying to recreate Phil Spector's wall of sound has written or co-written with Springsteen eight of the record's 10 tunes. His "Love on the Wrong Side of Town" and "She Got Me Where She Wants Me" are especially strong numbers, obviously written to take advantage of the Jukes' neo-r 'n' b inclinations
Van Zandt's affection for the r 'n' b genre is so great that he's gone so far as to revive the "answer song" with "I Ain't Got the Fever No More," a response of sorts to Springsteen's "The Fever," recorded by the Jukes on their first album. It's a slow, bluesy number, which Southside Johnny uses as a convenient excuse to play some of the fine Chicago-style harmonica that is the source of his nickname.
But elsewhere on the album it's the Jukes as a unit, not any particular individual, who shine. There aren't any virtuoso players in this band, and it's just as well: The source of the Jukes' strength and appeal is their unity, which might be undone if any one musician stood out too much. As it is, they have developed a remarkable camaraderie, which spills over into an inspired reading of Ivory Joe Hunter's "Without Love" and the joyously thumping "When You Dance," a Springsteen Van Zandt number.
Much has been made of Southside Johnny's Springsteen connection - perhaps too much. It's true that the Jukes, who appear in the film "Between the Lines," opening today, and will perform in concert Friday night at the Warner Theater, have basically the same background and musical interests as their more acclaimed Jersey buddy, but it seems equally valid to compare them to Graham Parker, Frankie Miller or Bob Seger - performers who, like the Jukes, are in their late 20s or early 30s and never lost their love for the music made by the idols of their youth.
All these revivalist acts have the ability to wed their own feelings and ideas to classic rhythm 'n' blues instrumentation and musical structures. The dangers of exhausting this limited form are obvious, but under the guidance of someone as skilled as Van Zandt - who seems well on his way to becoming an American equivalent of English studio ace Dave Edmunds - a good-timing bar band like the Jukes is capable of some brilliant music.
Van Zandt is also exerting his influence on Ronnie Spector, whose career has taken a turn for the better since singing "You Mean So Much to Me" on the Jukes' first album. Spector, who will perform with the Jukes Friday night, has just made her best record since the days when she was on Phil's Philles label: "Say Goodbye to Hollywood," a single taken from her forthcoming album, produced by none other than "Sugar Miami Steve."
The accompaniment here comes from Springsteen's E Street Band, not the Jukes, and the production lays on the treble a bit too strong, but "Hollywood" and its B Side, a Van Zandt original called "Baby Please Don't Go," have that eternal pop feeling. The production, full of strings and maracas, seems designed to recall the Phil Spector sound, so Ronnie Spector fits right in: It's as if she'd never been gone.