NRBQ Album reviews.
Release Date: 09.14.99 Web homepage
Record label: Rounder
by: michael karpinski
An opening admission: Until recently, I had never heard of NRBQ. I had absolutely no clue as to how long the band has been together (30 years), the specific brand of music they choose to champion (folk, country, blues, roots rock, pop - you name it; NRBQ plays it), or even what the letters in their routinely abbreviated name signify (New Rhythm & Blues Quartet). I was utterly ignorant of the fact that NRBQ had supported R.E.M. on 1989's arena-rattling Green tour; that they have amassed a passel of passionate fans in Japan; and that they have a rather winsome weakness for wacky collaborations (Carl Perkins, Skeeter Davis, and World Wrestling Federation legend Captain Lou Albano).
Songwriting duties on NRBQ - the band's 26th-or-so aural offering (including two best-of collections and at least a fistful of live discs) - are pretty much evenly split between keyboardist Terry Adams and guitarist Johnny Spampinato. Relatively speaking, Spampinato's compositions, while consistently and derivatively familiar ("Sail On Sail On" sounds like early-'70s Chicago; "Breakway to My Dreams": mid-'70s Art Garfunkel; "Blame It on the World": late-'70s Seals & Crofts), still easily outstrip his bandmate's often jaw-droppingly awful efforts at levity ("CM Pups", "Birdman", "I Want My Mommy"). "Puddin' Truck"'s ersatz boogie-woogie blues might well get the coveralls-clad asses a'wigglin'n'jigglin' in the smoky local roadhouse, but committed to disc it sounds about as fresh and spontaneous as a 70-year-old slab of Spam. Only "Termites", with its piano-enhanced "9 to 5" bassline and Oingo Boingo-esque boisterousness, manages to rise above the status of fatuous filler.
While there can be no questioning this determinedly quirky quartet's chops or chemistry, NRBQ does nothing to establish the band as anything more than a flexibly irreverent bar-band novelty act.
In the end, perhaps, one is best advised to track NRBQ to that aforementioned smoky local roadhouse, and then - and only then - decide for oneself if this is America's most egregiously under-appreciated "omnipop" outfit, or merely a "flexibly irreverent bar-band novelty act" entirely deserving of its obscurity.