On a beautiful August night JSJBF member band The Gumbo Gumbas, a project that grew out of leader Joe Grillo and his late brother Alfie’s love of all things New Orleans, played to an appreciative crowd at Bands on the Beach. This was the second of two shows held on the beach for this summer-long Sunday night concert series, sponsored by the City of Long Branch in association with the JSJBF. This show gave the band a chance to play live much of the material that can be found on their new CD, “Zydeland,” with our own Jill Baskind donning the rub board for a couple of tunes. For those of you who may not get the reference in the title, Zydeco is a southern Louisiana dance music featuring the accordion, rub board and in this case horns. The music on the CD was dedicated to Alfie, who passed during the pandemic, and their mixing engineer, Tim Gilles, who left us during the making of the CD.
All of the band members who appeared on the beach are on the record, including Dave Anthony on drums, Vinnie Borselli on trumpet, Joe on tenor sax and vocals, Steve Munter on baritone sax and clarinet, Greg Novick on bass, Steve “Big Squeezy” Rice on accordion and piano and Lars Wendt on trombone. All tunes were written, arranged and produced by Joe except as noted below.
The opening title track “Zydeland,” begins with the measured beat of the drums and is joined quickly by the accordion, with the horns kicking in as the lyrics invite you to join the band on a journey to this magical, musical place. As with any good Gumbo, it’s flavored with local ingredients, in this case a dose of the Jersey Shore sound spices up the mix. “Dance With Me” picks up the beat and is reminiscent in tempo and style to one of Joe’s major influences, Louis Prima. If this tune doesn’t get you out of your seat, nothing will. “Waiting for the Cane,” is dedicated to the crazies who choose not to evacuate, but start the party in anticipation of a hurricane, and party they will to this number. “King Cake” includes lyrics by Joe and music by Steve, was explained to the uninitiated that night as the legendary dessert of Mardi Gras which is said to bring luck and prosperity to whoever gets the plastic baby in their piece. It’s a high energy number that gives each member of the horn section a chance to stretch out and strut their stuff, and they made it a highlight of that night and the CD. The recorded version of this song literally jumps out of the speakers. “Can’t Go Back To New Orleans” is a moving tribute to Joe’s brother, envisioning an ode to the city they both love through the sound of Tom Waits, one of Alfie’s favorite artists. I got the chills listening to what starts out as a somber tune but ends in an upbeat fashion, finishing with Frank Rein’s tuba. Joe and Vinnie collaborated on the lyrics to the tall tale of “Gumbo Parmesan,” a song that’s lyrics are as much of a fun dream its title implies.
“By the Water” has that infectious “Congo Square” beat, which is highlighted by Dave’s opening drum pattern with accompanying percussion and conjures up a scene of the locals doing a NOLA style tap dance. With lyrics by Ken Morrison and music by Steve Rice, “Drifting Off and Dreaming of You” is a mid twentieth century style ballad, complete with strings, and has Joe in the role of a crooner which he does quite eloquently. A welcome respite from the nonstop party to this point, he sounds like the last man at the bar, smoke curling up from that final cigarette, with drink in hand, thinking about the woman of his dreams. The penultimate song, “Drinks On the House,” is another fanciful flight of fantasy which would be loads of fun as an MTV video. Bring on the aliens, it’s party time! The final tune, “Why Can’t Everyday Be Mardi Gras?,” is a fitting end to this party with Steph’s clarinet leading the second line followed by the rest of the band with a chorus children along the route singing out the refrain. For this band, every time they start to play it’s Mardi Gras. If these songs don’t leave you smiling and dancing I don’t know what will. Mission accomplished in the fun department as far as I’m concerned.