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).
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.
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
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.