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Baby, This Time It's Surreal: Southside Johnny Meets Tom Waits

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If you saw this: "An animated movie about a rat that wants to be a gourmet chef," would you think, "Blockbuster! We'll get Peter O'Toole?'" I don't know about you, but I liked "Ratatouille." A lot! It made over $200,000,000!

Try this on for size, "White, R&B singer from the Jersey Shore does big band tribute to Tom Waits." No takers? Didn't think so. Fools, you all!

Ladies & Gentlemen, I give you one of the freshest recordings of the year, "GRAPEFRUIT MOON: THE SONGS OF TOM WAITS," from Southside Johnny. On paper, it makes about as much sense as...well...the plans for "Ratatouille." But someone knew what they were doing. And that someone is Richie Rosenberg, better known as La Bamba from the Conan O'Brien show.

Sure, you've got the material. Waits is no slouch in the songwriting department. But to feel this music the way La Bamba feels it, is no easy task. Southside Johnny does a fine job interpreting the tin pan alley words and melodies of the great Tom Waits. But the real star is Richie "La Bamba" Rosenberg, whose arrangements evoke the brilliance of such orchestrators as Oliver Nelson, Billy May, and Nelson Riddle.

"Down Down Down" becomes a kick-ass jitterbug and "All The Time In The World" sends you speeding through the Riviera, looking for Blofeld. "Johnsburg, Illinois," one of my fave Waits tunes, clocks in at less than 2 minutes on "Swordfishtrombones." It's a tad longer here, but after one listen, you are ready to kick a can down some boulevard in the rain, wondering just why she did you wrong. Every song will either put you in a Billy Wilder film or some saloon. I won't dare bring up such sacred cows as "Sinatra Sings For Only The Lonely," ---ok I lied, I just did---but, that was then, and this is now. And "Grapefruit Moon" is that good.

Back when there was still hope, this record would sell in the millions, and Andy Williams would be poised to exclaim, "And the winner for Contemporary Jazz Album is..." and Richie & Johnny would get to hobnob with, oh I dunno...G-Unit and Taylor Swift.

I admit, I went into this room with eyes a'rollin'! Now that I am here, I don't want to get out.