I didn't plan on working on an NRBQ review but I accidentally ordered an album I already had in the collection -- their fine and still somewhat hard to find 1973 album called Workshop.
It was a pure impulse buy when I was buying some albums to support Amoeba Music's Covid-19 lockdown fundraising efforts. I could have turned my desk chair around and looked right behind me in my collection to find I already owned Workshop. But... no... I got caught in the record-collector headlights of a spiffy colored vinyl reissue from the fine Sundazed Records reissue label.
So... when I realized my mistake, I figured that since I now had a nice clean original pressing in hand and a brand new reissue, I might as well do a little informal "shoot out" type review.
Thus, here we are...
Before I get to that, however, if you don't know about NRBQ, its high time you learned. Don't be like me sitting on the sidelines for decades wondering and curious but not sure where to begin. You have no excuses with all the streaming media services around like Tidal and Qobuz and Spotify (most of NRBQ's albums are streaming ... most, not all... more on that later). I have been trying to make up for lost time reviewing some of the fine reissues and new releases put out via the band and Omnivore Recordings (click here, here and here and.. well... here also to read some of those. Oh yeah... here too!).
I guess I like this band a whole bunch!
Anyhow, finding a copy if Workshop was somewhat elusive for me as I was trying to flesh out my collection, but I finally found one in really nice shape. This is an original "garden of eden" style label from the Buddha Records subsidiary, Kama Sutra Records, from 1972. Kama Sutra, especially from this period was not always a great quality label so finding a super clean copy was extra special for me.
That challenge alone might make picking up the new Sundazed reissue appealing to the casual fan just getting into the group. This standard weight translucent blue vinyl pressing is quiet, well centered and perfectly fine. Sure, the label is completely different than the neat old Kama Sutra design but if you don't really care about that sort of thing, then this version may work just fine for you.
For the most part the Sundazed reissue of Workshop sounds real good. Excellent even. There is nice detailing on the guitars. The vocals sound full. I'm not hearing anything significant in the way of digital artifacts that might hinder my enjoyment of this album.
But when compared to my near mint original pressing, that version kind of edges out the reissue for me. The deal breaker for me -- besides the weak label design -- wasn't an issue with the vocals or the guitars or the drums. No, it was how the reissue treated the periodic horn section which appears on some tracks. To my ear, the horns sound fuller and punchier on the original pressing than the reissue. Why? I don't know. But that is my experience. The horns sound.... well.. more horn-y.
This is really important when you get past the rootsy swingin' rock 'n roll tunes on Workshop -- this album is home to NRBQ's classic concert fave "RC Cola and a Moon Pie" -- and dig down into the more complex and jazz flavored pieces. Especially on Side 2, "Miss Moses" and my favorite track -- "Four Million B.C." -- benefit greatly from the warmer treatment of the horns. Its a minor thing really, splitting hairs in a way but when you are playing music that sounds like outtakes from an imaginary session by Charles Mingus featuring Thelonious Monk, well then you want things sounding as rich and round as possible. And to my ear the Kama Sutra pressing is closer to that.
But really, this is minor issue in the grand scheme of things. If you like NRBQ and don't have Workshop in your collection, this Sundazed reissue is a no brainer to get. And, vinyl seems to be the best way to get the album as it is not available on Tidal, Qobuz or Spotify or even Amazon...
Somehow that doesn't seem like such a bad thing.
Actually, its kinda cool...