Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes – Hearts of Stone (1978); Men Without Women: Live (2011)

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Nowadays, Steven Van Zandt is often associated with the popular HBO television series The Sopranos. But for music fans who actually read credits hidden away in album inserts, Van Zandt is probably better known as a musician and/or production team member involved with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band during that 10-year run in which they released four classic albums: Born to Run (1975), Darkness On the Edge of Town (1978), The River (1980), and Born in the USA (1984) — all of them often found in various lists of Top Albums of All Time.

However, during this same period, Steven Van Zandt also produced three fine albums for another set of Jersey shore brothers in musical arms, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. The first two albums, I Don’t Want to Go Home (1976) and This Time It’s for Real (1977) featured guest artists and cover versions of classic soul mixed in with Stax influenced, R&B-styled original compositions.

The third release, however, was the charm. It was a streamlined affair, with no guests — just the band (complete with horn section and drummer Max Weinberg on loan from the E Street Band) playing a tight set consisting of a couple of contributions from Bruce Springsteen’s studio stockpile fleshing out the rest of the album’s Steven Van Zandt penned material.

This collection, 1978’s Hearts of Stone, is considered by many to be one of the finest albums in the Southside Johnny canon. Unfortunately, it didn’t sell enough to warrant their recording contract being renewed, and it was time anyway for Van Zandt to leave and fulfill his commitments with the Springsteen camp.

By late 1981, Steven Van Zandt had moved on again to record his first solo album, Men Without Women, released in 1982 and credited to Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. Interestingly, it turns out that more than half of Men Without Women consists of songs that years ago had been considered for Hearts of Stone, specifically: “Inside of Me,” “Princess of Little Italy,” “Until the Good Is Gone,” “Angel Eyes,” “Forever” and “I’ve Been Waiting.”

A quick listen reveals the material on both albums to be closely related, an observation further supported by Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes 2012’s release Men Without Women: Live 7-2-11, where they covered Little Steven’s album in its entirety, keeping close to the original arrangements.

One has to wonder if any tinkering with the original running order and song selection might have pushed Hearts of Stone higher up the charts. It probably wouldn’t have made a difference: Steven Van Zandt himself, on the live album, indicates to the audience that the music industry at the time were of little help, as the powers that be had decided that “horn bands” were on their way out anyway.

In any case, in light of Bruce Springsteen’s 2010 deluxe expanded reissue of Darkness on the Edge of Town and the imminent release of a similar treatment for The River slated for December 2015, it seems the time might be right for a decent remaster/expansion of Hearts of Stone, and maybe other Jukes’ albums as well.

“I’ve been waiting such a long time,” croons Southside Johnny near the end of the Men Without Women concert. So have we all, Southside; so have we all.

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