Bentley's Bandstand: NRBQ, David Bromberg, Mike Zito, Dave Edmunds
NRBQ, Keep This Love Goin'. They say the lucky ones are those who find their life's calling early, and then stay with it for the duration. In music circles, that would be Terry Adams and his band NRBQ. Forty years in, and Adams has reassembled the 'Q with fairly new musicians and proven that it's the passion inside a sound that matters as much as who is playing the instruments
The inner key to NRBQ's unique appeal is the unstoppable pop of Adams' songs, and the way he puts just enough pretzel twists in them to keep us intrigued. As a pianist, the New Englander has always headed for the outer limits, borrowing freely from Thelonious Monk as much as Johnny Johnson. That makes all the difference in the world on songs like "Boozoo and Leona" and "The Animal Life." Needless to say, there isn't another rocker this side of Saturn that works the quirks quite as well, or bottles joy with such dedicated sass.
Terry Adams doesn't call this new aggregation NRBQ lightly, and knows the bar is set up near the ceiling for any group using that tag. The mind flips, though, for how much fun all involved sound like they're having, and the way they take right up where the original quartet left off. When the songs are flowing and Adams and his musical buddies are rolling, they let the pride in one of America's all-time great bands fly high. Get it while you can.
Special guest collections often run the risk of getting weighed down with their own importance, like a big flashing Notice Me sign is flashing on their front. But David Bromberg is much too classy an act to travel that road, and instead wisely keeps himself out front on these 11 songs. They're good 'uns, too, whether on an original like "Tongue" or Hiatt's "Ride Out a Ways," or classics like "Bring It With You When You Come" and "It's Just a Matter of Time." No one knows their way around an arrangement better than Bromberg, who made a career of keeping the flash out of sight while he worked his roots like a Kentucky miner.
Even though he's spent the past decade running a violin retail and repair shop in Wilmington, Delaware, the seasoned vet keeps his hand in with live shows of his bluegrass quartet and big band, finding ways to take stringed instruments to places they haven't been. Hearing him gather friends like these for some high-stepping hijinks makes this most valuable player sound as lively as ever.
Blues-rocker Mike Zito has seen a few Greyhound stations, and it's gotten inside his music. He's got a switchblade attack on his Stratocaster guitar, and enough grit in his voice to sound like he knows how to sleep sitting up. In the past few years the man has been making albums that blend down home blues with uptown swagger, and come from a place that must be lived to be found. There are no shortcuts to where Zito is going, and it feels like he has the kind of persistence that says it's only a matter of time until he gets there.
This new set is produced by Anders Osborne in Lafayette, Louisiana and sounds like it. There is just enough mess in the mix to show this isn't some shiny shot at Southern showoff. Rather, this is what comes from a life lived upside down long enough to learn that right-sideup is both preferable and much more permanent. Mike Zito may be off the Greyhound but he's still on the bus, and that says it all.
Dave Edmunds, Rockpile. South Wales might not jump off the map as the most obvious home of rock 'n' roll but considering that's where Dave Edmunds comes from, geographical importance might just have to be reconsidered. The Welshman blew into the British Invasion with the band Love Scultpure in 1968, and hasn't slowed down since. The 1970 album hit right when roots rock was raising its head again, and no one seemed more capable of captaining the charge than Edmunds. With six bonus tracks now added, this reissue ranks right up there as a crash course in all that is right with two guitars, bass and drums.
Songs by Chuck Berry, Smiley Lewis, Willie Dixon, and even Bob Dylan are shot through with subtle strength. Dave Edmunds never overplays his hand, knowing that in rock less is often more. After several solo albums he joined forces with Nick Lowe in the band Rockpile and started storming the palace walls in the late '70s with unequaled power and precision. For a few years it looked like the U.K. crew was going to blow the musical landscape completely apart, right up until Lowe decided commercial dominance came with too big a price tag and took a pass.
Long deemed a small masterpiece, Edmunds' solo debut still stands as one of his proudest moments. It sounds like music made by someone who has set himself free to find both his roots and his future. That they turned out to be one and the same is one of those lucky breaks in rock 'n' roll, for the listener and the artist alike. Over 40 years later, Brother Dave's early escapades still thrill.
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