One of my big accomplishments this year happened the night I finally got to see the legendary New Rhythm & Blues Quartet live in concert-- a transfixing, transformative, tremendously fun evening. I'd been dancing around The Q's perimeter for a few years fan-wise (I had a handful of their albums) but it was during that show that I fully put my hand on the book of NRBQ and before a jury of my peers, said: "I believe!" And I've been going deep on collecting their whole catalog ever since...
The current incarnation of NRBQ -- featuring founding member Terry Adams -- is a spectacular group of players who can, and do, literally play anything. This new NRBQ he has assembled is pure and true to the band's legacy, a factor which is in evidence on their latest EP, called Happy Talk: across five songs, the group covers the gamut from rollicking electric rock blues and Broadway-worthy comic pop to swaggering Country. In the title track, they most fabulously transform a song -- which hails from the 1949 hit musical South Pacific -- into a timely Christmas-type song (replete with obligatory sleigh bells!). They also strip back Roy Orbison's haunting "Only The Lonely" to its (probable) front porch Country-Western roots and it totally works -- this version sounds like what might happen if Conway Twitty or Kitty Wells had recorded it.
Happy Talk is a fun mini-album with loving mastering by NRBQ super-fan Gary Hobish of A. Hammer Mastering. This nifty collection sounds clean, dynamic and just right for the music. And, for about $9 on CD ($7 on download), this NRBQ nugget is a fine stocking stuffer for the pop music fan on your list... You can read more about it at the Omnivore Records website (their current label). You can also sample a bunch of NRBQ's catalog via Tidal, if you are a subscriber to that streaming music service.
If a five-song dose of new rhythm 'n blues isn't quite enough, I can also highly recommend one of their more recent (well, at least 21st century released) full length albums from 2011: Keep This Love Goin'. I fell in love with the title track right from the get go when I saw them do it in concert and made sure to pick up the CD at their "merch" table after the show as I was still humming the tune.
Guitarist/singer Scott Ligon has a great voice and is a tremendous picker. He's also no slouch when it comes to songwriting. He co-wrote several of my favorite songs on the album including said title track which sounds like the theme from a lost 70s sitcom. I mean this in the best possible way: that song Keep This Love Goin' could be an alternate universe theme song to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Golden Girls or even Love American Style (really, the hook is that catchy!). And I swear folks, when I first heard the song "Here I Am" I thought it sounded like track by The dBs (but its not so far as I have been able to ascertain from poking around the Interwebs... but its that good!).
Most of the NRBQ albums I've heard thus far -- across all eras -- sound remarkably consistent, so don't expect dramatic difference between the sound of these recordings. This is a good thing! NRBQ records all seem to sound real good as your basic four piece rock'n roll'n pop'n jazz'n blues combos sound. NRBQ as a group seems to have always had their priorities straight and put the music first, placing the songwriting front and center. And really, at the end of the day, what more do you need production-wise when you have great songs like this? I'd rather have simply produced, great music than over-blown production that sacrifices the song. And that is something I'm happy to talk about!
So, riffing off the inimitable words of The Partridge Family: C'mon.... get happy (talk)!