Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, August 2, 2018 (photo by Alan Messer)
There it was again, just the other day — descending from the supermarket store speakers like a friendly angel; adding a subconscious spring to each shopper’s step with its perky piano-driven promise of “southern kisses” and sneak-on-out romance; blessing each purchase of Entenmann’s Glazed Pop-Ems and Plumpy’s Frozen Calamari with the same cheerful upbeat plea for love beneath sun and stars (or back there“behind the chandelier”) that took it to the Billboard Top Twenty chart in 1979.
Even those patrons of the Neptune Shop-Rite who immediately matched “Romeo’s Tune” with its composer and performer Steve Forbert might not have realized that not only is the veteran music maker “Alive on Arrival” and deliriously active on multiple creative fronts — he could very well be the next guy in the checkout line, having become a full-time Neptune resident some 17 years ago (and prior to that, a frequent flyer to our fair Shore, thanks to the presence of a longstanding Juliet to his Romeo).
For the Grammy nominated native of Meridien, MS who’s a proud inductee of the Mississippi Music Hall of Fame — and whose voice retains its honeydrip willow-weep drawl in conversation (and its fine-grain belt-sander blues-grit in concert), the area served by The Coaster is more than just a place to hang one’s figurative hat. Having written and recorded hundreds of songs since the release of his debut LP a full four decades back, he’s seen his works covered by the likes of Rosanne Cash, James Maddock, Carolyne Mas, Marty Stuart, and Keith Urban — and his established presence on the Asbury Park scene has granted him the local-dude cred to put forth such tunes as “Strange Names (North New Jersey’s Got ‘Em),” “My Seaside Brown-Eyed Girl”— and “Sandy,” a 2013 single that name-checked the communities devastated by that selfsame superstorm (and ended on a hopeful note of rebuild and restore).
Then there was Highway of Sight, the 2011 exhibition (and its 2015 sequel) that commandeered Cookman Avenue’s Art629 Gallery for a intriguing look at an altogether different facet of the musician’s art — a first-rate collection of photographs, showing people and places from one man’s ongoing road trip through the space and the spirit of a blacktop-laced continent. And it was Asbury Park that played a significant part in one of Forbert’s most famous extracurricular endeavors, when he took the stage at the old FastLane to sing Little Richard songs with Cyndi Lauper, then fronting the band Blue Angel — a lark that led to his appearance as Cyndi’s tux-clad beau in the mega-heavy rotation video for “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”
While he still practices his “glorified hobby” as a lensman, Forbert harbors no illusions about a pursuit in which “you’ve gotta be William Eccleston to be able to do a proper photo book” — and it’s the pursuit of his first and foremost muse that brings him back to the Asbury stage on Friday, August 3, when he pays a visit to the Circuit-side staple Wonder Bar in the midst of a northeastern tour with his band, The New Renditions.
It’s actually a rare full-combo gig on the home front, for a performer whose local appearances in recent years have ranged from duo sets at McLoone’s Supper Club and featured spots at Light of Day concerts, to holding down the Stone Pony SummerStage all by his lonesome, as an opener for Johnny and the Jukes. Backed by an “all Jersey people” organization — Jesse Bardwell (mandolin, guitar), Caleb Estey (drums), Todd Lanka (upright bass), and George Naha (lead guitar) — Forbert promises a retrospective that ranges from the earliest times of his 40-plus years as a troubador, to a preview of his latest album.