These guys are still around?
Apparently so. NRBQ is cockroach-like resistant. Two of the members of the band—keyboardist Terry Adams and bassist Joey Spampinato—have been there from the get-go, over 37 years ago. Yes, this band started up in 1967, when many of you were gleams in your respective parents’ eyes. So what exactly does NRBQ stand for? (Answer below.) Musically, they stand for longevity and creativity, doing what they like to do and doing it to the best of their abilities. Their ability to avoid being pigeonholed is legendary. They rock, of course, but jazz, blues, country, rockabilly, and reggae are never far from the band’s vernacular. But what makes them both endearing and enduring is that they do it all so well. It’s somewhat of a mystery as to why this band hasn’t drawn a huge massive following over the course of its career, but they do have a rather global cult following—stands to reason if success carries nearly four decades, no? And some of their biggest fans are fellow musicians—folks who run the gamut from Carl Perkins (who actually recorded with the band) to Keith Richards. Hell, they’re even the house band for The Simpsons! (It’s true.)
So to try to put a reason to the seasoned veterans, they do everything well. Most of their music is laced with fun and humor, and live they don’t skimp on energy or audience involvement (they ask fans for cover songs, which they try to play on the spot). They can touch all musical corners of the sound sphere and make something good happen. Along with the above-mentioned founding duo, the band is completed by Joey’s brother Johnny on guitar and Tom Ardolino on the skins. In a way, these four dudes resemble the biggie jambands of past and present, such as the Grateful Dead, Phish, String Cheese Incident, etc. The similarity is that NRBQ has almost as many live albums as studio releases, bearing out the fact that this band is worth seeing on stage. But like the jambands, every group needs some new material in their arsenal, and Dummy fits the bill nicely for the New Rhythm and Blues Quartet (what NRBQ stands for).
As in previous works, the quartet travels all over the sonic map, and manages to carve out an entertaining path to follow. The 13-song milieu starts off with the title track, which has jazzy overtones mashed up with what sounds like early Dave Edmunds. And ironically, the next song, “One Big Parking Lot”, is pure rockabilly, but with no Edmunds aura. (Gotta love the line that goes, “No matter how big, no matter how far, we’re all connected by a big piece of tar.”)
“Little Bug Bug” is one of three cover songs, and is a sunny splash of childlike reggae, while “Call of the Wild” is pure pop. “I Need Love” conjures up the aura of Motown soul, while “Imaginary Radio” leans towards barroom blues. Just like the title sounds, “Hey Punkin Head” is funny (it’s hard to talk tough when you do so to a twist-like beat). With the Astrud Gilberto-Antonio Carlos Jobim effort “All That’s Left to Say is Goodbye”, you know that it’s NRBQ’s samba effort, and has a nice jazzy feel. For “Do the Primal Thing”, I’ll just write verbatim what I jotted down as a crib note: “funny; sounds like the theme to a bad B-movie, with the song being the best part.” “What You Mean to Me” is a slow torch song, and it’s followed by a 180-degree turnaround with the rockabilly of “God With a Blue Dress”. Then there’s “Be My Love”, a simple country song. But since this is NRBQ, there has to be a twist, and there is: the song is a Mario Lanza standard (he’s opera, for those who don’t know). Last but not least is “Misguided Missles”, a rompin’, stompin’, deadly serious political song laced with ironic humor—just the way NRBQ likes it.
NRBQ just keeps chugging along, like the little engine that could. Don’t let the humor fool you—these dudes have talent and smarts, or else how do you last for just about 38 years in the music biz? Dummy is a pleasing plethora of wide-open sketches of the musical landscape. And though you can describe most NRBQ albums in that manner, because of experience in musicianship and smarts, this one rises to the top of the heap. This is an overall excellent effort, right down to the actual dummies that grace the cover and the inner booklet. (Johnny Spampinato’s wife won’t let him bring his dummy likeness home—it scares the kids.) In this case, don’t judge a CD by its title.