As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Dec. 3, 2004
They’ve been together for more than 35 years. They’ve recorded with rockabilly titan Carl Perkins, the late country star Skeeter Davis, The Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian and pro wrestling great Captain Lou Albano. While never achieving mass commercial success, they’ve long been considered “musicians’ musicians” and critics’ darlings.
And they’ve even been on The Simpsons.
But most importantly, NRBQ, one of the most versatile and longest lasting bands in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, still is cranking out amazing albums full of songs that are sometimes challenging, frequently taking strange turns and almost always catchy.
Their latest album Dummy is evidence of that. The boys of the Q can still rock like madmen one moment then create sweeter than sweet pop the next.
The title cut, which opens the album starts out with a discordant little riff, punched up by horns, which sounds like it might have been the soundtrack of a 1960s commercial for a headache remedy, then slows into a funky, Randy Newman-ish groove as singer Terry Adams drawls a bittersweet lament about self-inflicted ignorance.
What follows are samples of the entire NRBQ everything-but-the-kitchen-sink bag of tricks. “One Big Parking Lot” is a chunka-chunka rockabilly/Johnny Cash style workout. “Imaginary Radio” is pure sweet weirdo pop that sounds like Adams is mainlining Brian Wilson’s melodies -- as well as his lyrics. “Do the Primal Thing” sounds like gorilla warfare. “I Need Love,“ written and suing by NRBQ cofounder Joey Spaminato, sounds like a lost Al Green song. And “What You Mean to Me” is one of the prettiest songs NRBQ’s ever recorded.
All these are originals, written by Adams and/or Spaminato. But there’s a couple of inspired covers here too.
“All That’s Left is to Say is Goodbye” is a bossa nova written by Antonio Carlos Jobim. “Be My Love” was an Italian pop hit by Mario Laza, though NRBQ do it as a sweet country song.
The there’s “Little Rug Bug,” which started out as a “song-poem” -- a tune whose lyrics were written by a wanna-be songwriter who responded to one of those “Put Your Poems To Music” ads. (Q drummer Tom Ardolino is a leading song-poem collector and enthusiast.) On Dummy, “Little Rug Bug” becomes confectionary reggae.
The album ends with one of the few -- perhaps only -- overtly political tunes NRBQ has ever done, “Misguided Missiles.” Clocking in at under two minutes, this song blasts “misinformed patriots, their flags unfurled/ while their misplaced leaders destroy the world.” Amazingly, this tune was recorded 13 years ago. (And former Q-man Big Al Anderson, a part-time Santa Fe resident, is playing rhythm guitar.)
In a way, NRBQ records like Dummy are like those of The Firesign Theatre. Each new listen reveals something new you didn’t notice before.
Hear a lengthy NRBQ segment Sunday on Terrell’s Sound World, KSFR, 90.7 FM. Show starts at 10 p.m., the NRBQ segment will start right after 11 p.m.
*At The Organ by The Minus 5. Like NRBQ, Seattle-ite Scott McCaughey is a sucker for a sweet pop melody as much as sonic weirdness. With his revolving-door band that sometimes includes REM guitarist Peter Buck, ex-Posie Ken Stringfellow and, lately members of Wilco, McCaughey is responsible for some gorgeous madness.
This 7-song collection mostly consists of outtakes from their 2003 album Down With Wilco. In fact there are a couple of remakes of DWW’s best songs, “The Days of Wine and Booze” and “The Town That Lost Its Groove Supply.”
Among the highlights:
“(I’ve Got a) Lyrical Stance,” kicks off the CD. It’s a minute-and-a- half crazy rocker, with a Red Elvises Slav-rock synth hook. McCaughey and Jeff Tweedy share vocals, shouting lines like “I’ve got something in my pants/And it’s a lyrical stance.”
“Film of the Movie” is an outright country tune with clip-cloppy percussion and a prominent steel guitar. It might remind you of Bob Dylan’s “Lily, Rosemary and The Jack of Hearts.”
“The Days of Wine and Booze,” a dreamy ballad in its previous incarnation, is now a hard-edged rocker with Jeff Tweedy playing guitar as if he‘s auditioning for The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion . But the melody is just as memorable.
* Living With the Animals and Make a Joyful Noise by Mother Earth. I’ve waited for years for these classic hippie roots albums to be re-released on CD. Now here they are, on a little label called Wounded Bird.
Mother Earth was a San Francisco-based band that combined blues, soul, gospel and country. These are their first two -- and best --albums.
The band is best known as the launching pad for belter Tracy Nelson, who went on a respectable recording career. Her signature song “Down So Low” first appeared on Animals, though her greatest moment is the Memphis Slim song that gave the group its name.
But Nelson wasn’t the only Mother Earth singer. There also was the Rev. Ronald Stallings, a soul shouter who joined up on Joyful Noise, his best song be “Stop That Train.”
Then there was the quivering voiced R.P. St. John, Jr., who performed cosmic/comic tunes like “Living With the Animals” on the first album and the “I’ll Be Moving On” -- a close encounter between a freak and a southern police officer -- on the second. St. John also was responsible for a couple of cool psychedelic relics like the jazzy “The Kingdom of Heaven is Within You” on Animals and “The Fly” on Joyful Noise.
In general, Animals -- which includes guest appearances by guitarist Mike Bloomfield, organist Barry Goldberg, and keyboardist Mark Naftalin --is more bluesy, while Joyful Noise -- with backup on some cuts by steel guitarist Pete Drake and fiddlers Johnny Gimbel and Shorty Lavender has more overt country. (In fact, the album is divided between a "City Side" and a "Country Side")
Both albums sound just as refreshing and just as true as they did in 1968 and ‘69 when they first came out.