Men Without Women Live is a concert recording by one band, Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, performing an under appreciated and longtime out-of-print album by another band, Little Steven & The Disciples of Soul. What could possibly go wrong?
Absolutely nothing. The result is a majestic testament to the enduring power of the Jersey Shore sound popularized by these artists and ultimate ampersand band: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band.
Long before Snooki and MTV dragged the Jersey Shore’s name through the mud and Hurricane Sandy swept the shore out to sea, the area was defined by The Boss and his armies of singers, horns, guitars and pianos. So much music was pouring out of Springsteen and Little Steven Van Zandt during their genius era, they handed stacks of premium quality songs to their friend Southside Johnny Lyon. This was both a blessing and a curse. The albums were hits, but many perceived Lyon and his formidable live band to be The Time to Springsteen & Van Zandt’s Prince. While much of the songwriting credit on the first three Southside albums went to Springsteen and Van Zandt, it was Lyon and the Jukes who delivered the gospel on wax, in the clubs and on lengthy tours.
Springsteen went on to steadily deliver albums and stadium tours for the past 30 years. Van Zandt thrived as a front man, sideman, actor and radio host. Lyon’s career, on the other hand, has had more ups and downs than the Shore’s roller coaster that now sits under water. That he’s still going, sounding stronger, better and more alive than ever before, is a testament to the man, his band and the true spirit of New Jersey.
This one-off show could have come and gone and lived forever as bootlegs in the Backstreets forum, but thankfully, Lyon and his crew recorded, produced and mastered it with precision. As Lyon passionately sings, his voice weathered from a life truly lived, I picture him dangling from cables tied to the rafters, trying desperately to keep the horn section from blowing the roof off the legendary Stone Pony. They perform the album in sequence, including “Inside Of Me”, “Princess of Little Italy” and “I’ve Been Waiting” that were originally written by Van Zandt for the landmark Southside album Hearts of Stone. At the beginning of “Waiting,” Lyon even admits he has trouble remembering all the lyrics. It’s a surprising admission since the entire show sounds like he’s been singing these glorious songs his entire life. There’s also a tribute to fallen soldiers: Clarence Clemons, Kevin Kavanagh (original Jukes’ keyboardist) and the man who signed the band in the late 70′s despite all the radio consultants who said “horn bands were over.”
In addition to the Jukes, many of the original Disciples of Soul show up to play horns. Soozie Tyrell, who has been touring with Springsteen for much of the last decade on vocals and violin, leads a chorus of vocalists that lift Lyon into the heavens. And just when you think things can’t get any better, Van Zandt shows up to provide vocals on three bonus tracks, including two Jukes classics, “This Time It’s For Real” and “It’s Been a Long Time,” and Sam and Dave’s “Broke Down Piece of Man.”
Now, I’ll admit, I bought the 45-rpm of “Forever” but never ponied up for the album. Only now can I see what I have been missing all these years — Lyon mentions that Van Zandt will be re-releasing Men Without Women someday, let’s hope that happens soon. Until then, Men Without Women Live provides fitting tribute to the “shoulda-been-a-classic” album (the original peaked at #118 on the Billboard Top 200 in 1982).
For most bands, the live album (or worse yet, the covers record) is a throwaway contract filler; for others (Cheap Trick, Peter Frampton), it helps define their careers. While Men Without Women Live is both a concert record and a covers album, the only thing it fulfills is Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes destiny as one of the most enduring and essential live acts of our generation.
For a limited time, you can sample one of the tracks for free right here. One bonus about Lyon’s performance of the original album’s first single: you can finally understand the words.
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