For most people outside New Jersey, recognizing Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes has depended either on being a Bruce Springsteen follower or on having seen "Between the Lines," a light, bright and tight little movie based on the exploits of the staff of a Boston counter-culture newspaper quite like the Real Paper.
In the first case, the association was based on Southside Johnny's having cut his musical teeth in the same little Jersey clubs as Springsteen, and Miami Steve van Zandt and the other E Streeters, and what Springsteen, in the liner notes to an early Jukes album, called the unknown soldiers of their musical adolescence. Southside Johnny and the Jukes were primarily known in those early days as Springsteen's favorite band: a Springsteen splinter group, produced by Miami Steve and for whom Springsteen and van Zandt both wrote strong and E Street flavored material. Van Zandt's guitar presence nearly cinched the resemblance, although Southside Johnny's amazingly black-blues voice was a far cry from Springsteen's New Jersey brand of Brando.
The cameo appearance of the Jukes in "Between the Lines" as the stars of a record company party was a insiders' tip-of-the-hat to the fervor of the bands' own growing cult following. The Jukes' reputation as a pile-driving club attraction gained them early strongholds in Boston, New York and Philadelphia, like Springsteen before them. Their albums didn't reflect that awesome stage presence, but they weren't worried: Sooner or later they would hit their stride.
The truth was, Southside Johnny Lyon was a dynamic interpreter of the Boss's gospel. (Springsteen is hard to cover, which is why so few people have ever tried it.) Lyon had just that kind of black sounding, Roy Orbison moaning, raunchy R&B heartache voice that Springsteen loves, and Lyon's version of "The Fever" was such music to Springsteen's ears that he hasn't yet recorded it himself.
But in the end, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes had to break away from that legendary association, so they bolted to a new label -- Mercury -- and down to Muscle Shoals and this year's in producer Barry Beckett. It was a natural choice: the Jukes' sound has always depended on honkers, and Muscle Shoals is the best place in the country for honker session men.
Hence this new album, "The Jukes," intended as a great departure from the old days with more emphasis on the band itself (although the cover photo is of Southside Johnny alone). Most of the songs were written by Lyon and lead guitarist Billy Rush, with a little help from bass guitarist Allan Berger. The hallmark of Beckett's production work is to let the group have its head with very little rein, and it's true here too. There are horns and honkers galore, and no echoes of the old Asbury Park days.
Unfortunately, it only sometimes comes together. There are so many horns and saxes and sheer quivering metal that Lyon's bluesy voice sounds like a parody of Willie Dixon. Billy Rush writes lyrics to fit his name -- all in a hurry and squashed together, like Jules and the Polar Bears on speed -- and that sabotages Lyon's long, slow diction.
Only when Lyon cuts himself loose with his own lyrics, as in the sensuous, lingering "Paris," is he really in control of this album. Like the last two albums, it just doesn't live up to the debut.
The Cars' new "Candy-O," the follow-up to one of 1978's most heralded debuts, has a touch of the same ailment, plus the disadvantage of a single cut which is one of the most original and contagious car radio hits of the summer, "Let's Go." Only one or two other cuts on the album have as much originality as that, and a couple are downright boring.
Rick Ocasek has a knack for power-pop lyrics with teeth in them: You take your backseat rumble You take your frontseat wife It takes a fast car lady to lead a double life. And He's got his plastic sneakers she's got her robuck (sic) purse he's got his butane lighter she's got it worse they're crazy about each other like a misplaced fix they're mad about each other they blame it all on the lust for kicks.
Ocasek's shortcoming is that he diddles around with outdated dramatic musical stagings of these acidic lyrics, tossing in reverb, portentous vocals and all manner of electrified red herrings. Occasionally, though, his musical allusions are right on the mark, as in "Got a Lot on My Head," which has a Graham Parker-Brinsley Schwarz guitar lick and an organ line out of ? and the Mysterians via Elvia Costello-Steve Naive.
The overall impression is that Ocasek will find his own pace, given enough time and not too much adulation. And the album cover is notable for being the first original Vargas drawing since his retirement seven years ago. Lyrics 1979 Rick Ocasek/Lido Music (BMI). SHORT TAKE: "Chicago 13" continues in the bouncy sidewalk idiom the band developed last year when bouncy Donnie Dacus came in as lead vocalist. It's pleasant enough, but not very interesting, and guest shots by Maynard Ferguson and Airto Moreira seem wasted amid the general slambang of orchestration. There is a disturbing near falsetto in Dacus' own "Must Have Been Crazy" that makes you wonder if "Chicago 14" will sound like the Bee Gees meet Chuck Mangione. THE RECORDS SOUTHSIDE JOHNNY AND THE ASBURY JUKES -- The Jukes, Mercury SRM-1-3793. THE CARS -- Candy-O, Elektra/Asylum, 5E-507. CHICAGO -- Chicago 13, Columbia FC-36105.