- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 30, 2003

It was a reunion of Bruce Springsteen’s extended family Monday night at the Birchmere. The most accomplished bar-rock band in the world, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, headlined the bill, and violinist Soozie Tyrell, an old singing pal of Mr. Springsteen’s wife, Patti Scialfa, and a de facto member of the E Street Band, warmed up to a full house.

For three-plus hours and for the third time in a year, Alexandria was the temporary capital of the Jersey Shore.

“Southside” Johnny Lyon, as habitues of the Eastern Seaboard music scene know, is an old confederate of the beach-bar scene of mid-‘70s South Jersey and a close pal of Mr. Springsteen’s and E Streeter Steven Van Zandt’s. Both of them chipped in several compositions for the Jukes’ first few albums, with the latter producing.

The Springsteen and Van Zandt songs — among them “Trapped Again,” “The Fever,” “Hearts of Stone” and “Talk to Me” — are still tops for Jukes fans, but over the past 10 years or so, the late-blooming Mr. Lyon has secured his own turf as a songwriter. Also, it should be said, his take on songs such as Mr. Springsteen’s “The Fever,” finally released by the Boss himself in 1998, remain definitive.

Lately, too, Mr. Lyon fancies himself a Little Walter-like bluesman, playing a mean electric mouth harp. Among the horn-heavy Jukes jumpers, he settled into grinding blues vamps from his “Messin’ With the Blues” album, trading licks with versatile lead guitarist Bobby Bandiera. (Trombonist Richie “La Bamba” Rosenberg is the last original Juke.)

With a voice that sounds like Ray Charles on a steady diet of whiskey and gravel, Mr. Lyon also led the seven-piece Jukes through a batch of tunes from last year’s independently released “Going to Jukesville,” including the disco-y “I Can’t Dance,” the torch-soul ballad “Gladly Go Blind” and a cover of Delbert McClinton’s “Somebody to Love You.”

Bouncing around in a black T-shirt and dungarees, Mr. Lyon frequently clutched his thinning mop of hair, trying, he said, to mold it into the style of fellow Jerseyite Jon Bon Jovi. That prompted Mr. Bandiera to launch into an impromptu “Wanted Dead or Alive.”

Another on-the-spot cover, this of the Rolling Stones’ “Sweet Virginia,” cropped up after Mr. Lyon complained of perpetually getting lost in the Washington area. “If we knew a song about Maryland or the District of Columbia, we’d play that, too,” he said.

Miss Tyrell, last in the area at a considerably larger venue — FedEx Field, with Mr. Springsteen — borrowed Mr. Bandiera and Jukes keyboardist Jeff Kazee for her opening set and caravanned a rhythm section from New York City.

Concentrating on songs from her first album, “White Lines,” she filled out a 45-minute set with covers of Lucinda Williams’ “Can’t Let Go” and the Dusty Springfield classic “Son of a Preacher Man.”

Her own rootsy barroom rocker “Out on Bleeker St.” sounded like a close cousin to Mr. Springsteen’s “Out on the Street.”

She may have been singing about Manhattan, but the sound — she learned that on the other side of the Hudson.


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