Album Review: NRBQ - High Noon: A 50-Year Retrospective

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It’s a good thing NRBQ have been known by their initials rather than the words those initials stand for: New Rhythm and Blues Quartet (or Quintet until 1978). It’s hard enough trying to describe what these guys are all about without a misleading label; and while R&B is somewhere in the mix, this is by no means a rhythm and blues group.

So what is it exactly? Well, that depends on what track you’re listening to. This is a group that can sound like Chicago one minute (“Sail On Sail On”) and cover Sun Ra (“Love from Outer Space”) the next; they can sound like a Nuggets-worthy politically inclined garage-rock outfit (“Never Cop Out”), deliver Beach Boys-style harmonies (“Ridin’ in My Car”) and what could be an instrumental outtake from that group’s Pet Sounds (“Ruby, My Dear”), then crank out first-rate rockabilly (“This Old House”), Beatle-influenced pop (“I’d Like to Know”), and Big Band jazz (“That’s Neat, That’s Nice”). Somehow, it all makes sense coming from one group.

Besides writing diverse originals, these guys cover everyone from Rodgers and Hammerstein (“Getting to Know You”) to Eddie Cochran (“C’mon Everybody”). The music incorporates bebop, country, and blues, plus a large dose of humor. NRBQ have collaborated with the Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian, country/pop singer Skeeter Davis, early rocker Carl Perkins, and pro-wrestling manager Captain Lou Albano (who became both their manager and the subject of a song). As John DeAngelis rhetorically asks in the excellent liner notes, “What other band could play the Berlin Jazz Festival, the New York Folk Festival, and the Grand Ole Opry in one year?”

To which I’d add: if all that happened in one year, imagine what happened in 50. That’s the period covered by this 106-track, five-CD box, which includes remasters of their best previously released work, plus rarities, unreleased recordings, and live tracks. Fasten your seatbelt; it’s a wild ride, and it’s loaded with pleasures.

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Jeff Burger (byjeffburger.com), a longtime magazine editor, has written about music, politics, and popular culture for more than 75 periodicals. His books include Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon as well as Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches and Encounters and Leonard Cohen…

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