When I first got into NRBQ several years ago it was a bit of a revelation which opened the floodgates to brave new universe of music that I had missed out on for so many years. Tuning in and turning on to a group like NRBQ cuts to the essence of the joy of music discovery.
The sense of revelation is much like when I was introduced to the music of Guided By Voices (which I’ve written about here on Audiophile Review) back in the mid 1990s. It was new music that felt immediately familiar as if I’d heard it all my life. NRBQ fits like that same glove. I am admittedly a relative newbie to the NRBQ universe, but no less passionate than many experienced, long-term fans.
That said, when I first got to see NRBQ play a couple years ago here in San Francisco — featuring original founding member Terry Adams on piano and vocals — I immediately sensed that this particular 21st Century incarnation of the group needed to be captured in a high fidelity recording for posterity.
Culled from recent radio broadcasts, the new two LP set and CD-plus-DVD versions of Turn on, Tune In both include live video of the group performing at Monty Hall in Jersey City, NJ on WFMU-FM (the legendary and influential independent/free form radio station). The sound quality on this collection — part of which was also recorded at Sirius/XM — is very good as modern 21st-century, probably digital recordings go… and I mean that in the best possible way.
The recording quality is rock solid and and pleasing to the ear and some of that sonic joy needs to be attributed to great mastering engineer and long time (life time?) NRBQ fanatic, Gary Hobish of A. Hammer Mastering. He remastered NRBQ’s eponymous debut album which was recently reissued (and reviewed here by me!) as well as the band’s recent EP Happy Talk (also reviewed here!).
So, contrary to what some may believe, I am not necessarily an analog snob/ digital hater! In fact, I don’t mind digital at all if it is done properly and Gary seems to have once again nailed it.
Of course at the end of the day it’s the music that matters and Turn on, Tune In delivers on many many levels right from the get go. The opening track written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin — called “Don’t Ever Change” — is a song that I first heard performed on BBC recordings by The Beatles. This new NRBQ version is a bit of a jaw dropper. While I was initially surprised to read that Terry Adams had never performed the song before, clearly the singers (guitarist Scott Lignon and bassist Casey McDonough) utterly and completely knock these harmonies out of the ballpark in a manner worthy of no less than The Everly Brothers.
Indeed, the liner notes on the album depicts them “two brothers from other mothers” for no small reason! I assume that this dynamic duo had at least rehearsed the song a few times before this performance but — whatever — its amazing and a great way to kick off the album.
There are other wonderful moments on this collection including the quirky, near prog-rock mania of “Dr. Howard, Dr. Finer, Dr. Howard” and the rolling tumbling fun of “The Animal Life.” One of my favorite parts of this collection is the should-a-been-a-smash-hit called “Keep This Love Goin'” which frankly sounds like a lost theme for a TV sitcom from the 70s and please note that I mean this in the best possible way. Think of this song in a line with Andrew Gold’s theme from The Golden Girls (“Thank You For Being A Friend”) and The Mary Tyler Moore Show theme (“Love Is All Around”). It’s no small feat writing a song of that caliber!
Turn on, Tune In also comes with a DVD of live video recordings of the band at WFMU’s Monty Hall in Jersey City on August 20, 2017 so you also get to see the fun these guys have on stage making this music!. The video is simple capturing the band live in a small soundstage environment before a small but appreciative studio audience. The vibe is comfortable, warm and even intimate at times.
This album is a great addition to the NRBQ catalog and it would make a fine introduction to the band if you haven’t really listened to them before.
Isn’t it time for you to Turn on, Tune In?