Published Nov 04, 2016There aren't many bands like NRBQ out there. For half a century, NRBQ (which stands for "New Rhythm and Blues Quartet") have been delighting and confounding audiences and critics alike with a unique and eclectic blend of country,t folk, jazz, rock'n'roll and just about every other sound know to man. Unfortunately, what makes NRBQ's large catalogue of songs such a rich and rewarding one is also what makes it intimidating for newcomers — in short, it's hard to point to a single album or compilation that fully reflects the group's many facets. Until now.
Over five hours and 106 songs that span the group's 50-year career, High Noon gathers tracks from each one of NRBQ's studio LPs and several lineups, adding 14 previously unissued recordings as well as a handful of rarities (album-length collaborations with Skeeter Davis and Captain Lou Albano are skipped, though the latter shows up on an aptly titled single, "Captain Lou").
Kicking off with a 2015 cover of Sun Ra's "Love in Outer Space," where NRBQ turn the sprawling jazz improvisation into something resembling an outtake from the Byrds' Younger Than Yesterday, High Noon travels all the way back to the group's humble beginnings with a 1966 home recording of "Heartbreaker" that grafts a searing guitar solo onto the Ray Charles chestnut.
High Noon isn't arranged in strict chronological order. Beginning with songs from the current Terry Adams-led incarnation, each disc is devoted to one period of the band, with discs three and four focusing on the classic lineup of Adams (keys), Al Anderson (guitar), Joey Spampinato (bass) and Tom Ardolino (drums). While this means that the bulk of NRBQ's better-known songs ("Ridin' in My Car," "RC Cola and a Moon Pie," "Only You," "Me and the Boys," "Howard Johnson's Got His Ho-Jo Workin,'" "Never Take the Place of You") can be found on those two discs, it also shows that the group's fearless creativity and playful experimentation with the American popular music form has been its defining feature since its inception and a constant to this day.
Whether it's raucous garage-rock ("Terry Got A Muffin"), breezy country-pop ("Boy's Life"), stoner humour ("Wacky Tobacky"), Beatles-esque balladry ("This Love Is True"), zydeco ("Boozoo and Leona") or cheeky instrumentals ("Next Stop Brattleboro"), NRBQ can truly do it all — and better than most.
If NRBQ's refusal to stand in one place has likely contributed to their cult status, High Noon is proof that 50 years on, this remains a cult well worth joining — and that NRBQ are without a doubt one of the America's greatest musical treasures. (Omnivore)