Album Reviews

NRBQ

High Noon: A 50-Year Retrospective

Artist:     NRBQ

Album:     High Noon: A 50-Year Retrospective

Label:     Ominvore

Release Date:     11/11/2016

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Terry Adams, keyboardist, co-founder and long-running leader of NRBQ, describes the inspiration for the band in 1969 as “Sun Records and Sun Ra.” That’s a wide swath, to be sure, and one that allows for an endless amount of creativity. As the band grew popular in the late ‘60s and through the ‘70s, they didn’t take the well- traveled path that so many other bands took, with blues or psychedelia. While there are a few hints of blues in the material, the New Rhythm and Blues Quartet (NRBQ) relied more on rockabilly, pop, a dash of R&B, jazz and straight ahead rock ‘n’ roll. As you know, there are only a handful of bands that have been intact for fifty years, and even fewer that remain vital. Through multiple personnel changes, Adams, bassist Joey Spampinato and drummer Tom Ardolino played together for over thirty years. So, Adams worked with the folks at Omnivore Records to put together these five discs, encompassing 106 tracks, 14 of which are live, and many of which are previously unreleased. Let’s try to give you a little glimpse into each period.

Disc One (2005 – 2016): This represents mostly the current lineup of Adams, Scott Ligon (guitar, organ) and Casey McDonough (rhythm guitar, bass), with an array of drummers and other guests. Highlights include “Love in Outer Space” (Sun Ra), “Ruby My Dear,” covering Thelonius Monk from the 2015 album, Talk Thelonius, the popular “Everybody Say Yeah,” a cool rockabilly tune called “Fightin’ Back” and a live version of “Let Go,” with Danny Thompson on a flute solo. The hallmarks of wide ranging styles and ever creative instrumentation are as evident here as they are throughout the fifty years. (Note: it appears the band will be delivering a complete Sun Ra project for their next effort in 2017.)

Disc Two (1966 – 1970): There was a brief hiatus from when the band started in 1966, and Adams credits inspiration for reforming the band to Sun Ra, telling this story: “In December ‘67, Sun Ra had given me his number on a business card, and I decided to call him. He invited me to his apartment in New York City. I got there; he invited me in and said, “I have something especially for you.” He left the room and returned with a 45 of “Rocket Number 9.” After listening to it, I realized I had to get NRBQ going again. I called Steve and Frankie, and we headed back to Florida in May ’68.” This period featured outstanding guitarist/vocalist Steve Ferguson, Spampinato and Tom Staley on drums. In addition to “Rocket Number 9,” “Down In My Heart” features King Curtis on tenor, “Flat Foot Flewzy” has a blistering Ferguson guitar solo and the contrasting energetic “Stomp” is countered by the piano ballad, “Stay With Me.” Six tracks are punctuated with some strong moments from Terry’s brother, Donn, on trombone.

Disc Three (1971 – 1978): The predominant group during this period, after a few changes earlier on, was: Adams, Spampinato, guitarist/vocalist Al Anderson and Ardolino on drums. The Whole Wheat Horns of Donn Adams and Keith Spring on tenor sax emerged here as well. Highlights include the cover of the ‘50s pop hit, “This Old House,” Anderson’s stellar guitar in “Howard Johnson’s Got His Ho-Jo Workin’” and another one in their cover of Johnny Cash’s, “Get Rhythm.” Adams contributes inventive clavinet on a few tracks, others feature two guitars, and you can sense the band building toward their renowned, 1980s sound.

Disc Four (1977 – 1990): The same quartet carried into this period, perhaps the defining era for NRBQ. In looking for highlights, I checked half of the 22 tunes. The band’s mastery of pop is showcased on several tunes like “Rain at the Drive-In,” “How Can I make You Love Me,” “This Love Is True” and “The One and Only (featuring Roswell Rudd on trombone),” among others. Ardolino’s furious drumming comes to the fore on the instrumental “Smackaroo,” and a live “S’posin” has solos from Adams and Keith Springs. “12 Bar Blues” has blistering guitar from Anderson, as does the live “I Got a Rocket in My Pocket.”

Disc Five (1989 – 2004): During this period, Anderson had left the band and Joey Spampinato took over on guitar. While, this doesn’t have the power of Discs three and four, it shows a resilient, highly creative band that experiments with some sound effects and gets contributions from long-time contributor, multi-instrumentalist Jim Hoke on several tracks. Notable tracks include Spampinato’s “Sail On Sail On” and “Blame It On the World,” Adams’ instrumental “Next Stop Brattleboro,” the unique, rather experimental “One Big Parking Lot” and “Imaginary Radio,” the bluesy “Puddin’ Truck” and a live performance of Moondog’s “Paris,” with the late T-Bone Wonk on accordion.

The 31-page booklet will provide all the insight you need about their album history, the rarities included herein and musician credits by track. The package does an outstanding job of revealing one of America’s best bands, one that is still going strong. Hey, the timing is good too– this would make a terrific gift for any music fan. NRBQ brings joy at a time when we could really use some.

-Jim Hynes

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