Richard Barone and Ricky Byrd: A Bongo and a Blackheart make musical connections

JAY LUSTIG

Richard Barone, right, and Ricky Byrd performed at Crossroads in Garwood, May 19.

As Richard Barone joked during his show with Ricky Byrd at Crossroads in Garwood, May 19, it was a chocolate and peanut butter kind of pairing.

Byrd, of course, is best known for the lead guitarist for Joan Jett’s Blackhearts in the ’80s, the same decade that Barone was fronting the Hoboken-based alternative-rock band, The Bongos. Not exactly two bands you’d expect to do a lot of touring together.

Barone’s last album, furthermore, isSorrows & Promises: Greenwich Village in the 1960s, on which he puts his own spin on songs by Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Phil Ochs, Dion and many others. Byrd, meanwhile,seems more influenced by classic R&B and soul music, and his latest collection of songs focuses on the theme of addiction and recovery. Even their voices aren’t exactly made for each other, with Barone tending to sing in a sweet, pure manner, in contrast to Byrd’s gruffer, rougher style.

The chocolate and the peanut butter, though, combined to make a delicious peanut butter cup throughout out the show, during which Barone and Byrd sat side by side, and often accompanied each other on guitar and backing vocals. Deena Shoshkes and Jon Fried of The Cucumbers, who opened the show, added some spirited singing and instrumental backing from time to time, as well.

Barone emphasized the Sorrows & Promises material, making Ochs’ “When I’m Gone” sound more upbeat and pop-oriented than the original, and making good use of Shoshkes and Fried on buoyant versions of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?” and Richard and Mimi Fariña’s “Pack Up Your Sorrows.” He performed two airy, mysterious Bongos songs(“The Bulrushes” and “Numbers With Wings”) but returned to the earthySorrows & Promises for Janis Ian’s “Sweet Misery” and Dion’s “The Road I’m On.”

He’s clearly done his research, and told stories about each Sorrows & Promises songbefore performing it. He does not, as others exploring this era have done, focus only on the folk revival, but has broadened his scope to look at the pop and rock coming out of Greenwich Village during this time.

Byrd drew the covers he performed at this show from elsewhere, singing Bo Diddley’s “You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover,” Sam Cooke’s version of the standard “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons” and The Temptations hit “I Wish It Would Rain.” The confessional, introspective streak in the originals he performed, though (two of whichhe co-wrote with his former Asbury Jukes boss, Southside Johnny), connected him to Greenwich Village in the ’60s— ground zero, basically, for the entire singer-songwritergenre.

For their last song, Barone and Byrdfound a way to connect everything: “All the Young Dudes,” with Shoshkes and Fried helping out again. David Bowie, of course, wrote it; Bowie is a primary influence on Barone, who has also worked extensively with Bowie producer Tony Visconti. And Mott the Hoople had their biggest hit withthis song; Byrdcounts Mott the Hoople frontman Ian Hunter among the many artists he hasbacked.

“All the Young Dudes” is, furthermore, simply the right song to end any set with, anytime.

Barone and Byrd will perform together again at The Saint in Asbury Park, June 22 at 8 p.m. Barone will also perform, with Colin Gilmore opening, at Mexicali Live in Teaneck, July 13 at 8 p.m.

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