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‘Turn On, Tune In’ is NRBQ today and it’s freaking great

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From left: Scott Ligon (guitar/vocals), Casey McDonough (bass/vocals), John Perrin (drums), Terry Adams (keyboards/vocals). From left: Scott Ligon (guitar/vocals), Casey McDonough (bass/vocals), John Perrin (drums), Terry Adams (keyboards/vocals). (Photo courtesy NRBQ/John Kruke)

Fifty years after their debut on Columbia Records, the current incarnation of NRBQ (the original uncategorizable band) has prepared an astonishingly tasty live album compiled from two recent radio performances.

On Sept. 6, Omnivore Recordings will release “Turn On, Tune In” – a 21-song collection comprised of a 2015 live session for Sirius/XM’s The Loft and a 2017 concert from WFMU-FM’s Monty Hall performance space in Jersey City, New Jersey.

NRBQ co-founder Terry Adams (keyboards and vocals) has surrounded himself with a band of younger players obviously weaned on the sound of NRBQ’s longest-serving lineup – Adams, Al Anderson on guitar, Joey Spampinato on bass and the late great Tommy Ardolino on drums - together from 1974 to 1994.

Anderson left NRBQ in 1994 to focus on writing hits for a legion of country artists, including Tim McGraw, Carlene Carter, Vince Gill and Diamond Rio. Meanwhile, Johnny Spampinato (brother of Joey) took over on guitar as NRBQ continued recording and touring for another decade before calling an indefinite hiatus in late 2004.

Both lineups appeared together for reunion shows in 2004 and 2007, with the final concert taking place on April 28, 2007 at the Calvin Theatre in Northampton, MA.

Beloved drummer Tommy Ardolino passed away in 2012 of complications from diabetes.

Joining Adams in NRBQ today is Scott Ligon (guitars and vocals), Casey McDonough (bass and vocals) and John Perrin (drums and vocals) – each of whom possess an intimate awareness of the band’s extensive discography and an ability to perform the songs with verve, authority and eloquence.

Listening to “Turn On, Tune In” for the first time was a joyous experience that reminded me of my introduction to NRBQ some 30 years ago.

I’d noticed the band name-dropped by artists including Elvis Costello, R.E.M., Bonnie Raitt and Keith Richards while reading interviews in Musician and Goldmine magazines, but it wasn’t until my friend and fellow broadcaster Bob Reece insisted that I needed to hear NRBQ’s music that I snapped up the just-released “Wild Weekend” and the career-spanning “Peek-A-Boo” and discovered what I’d been missing.

Bonnie Raitt says that being an NRBQ fan makes you feel like you belong to a secret club. She’s right, but it shouldn’t be a secret at this point. There have been NRBQ tribute albums from other artists, multiple appearances on “The Simpsons” (NRBQ was the show’s house band for seasons 10-12 at executive producer Mike Scully’s insistence) and public shout-outs from Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Drew Carey and Penn & Teller.

NRBQ has existed in one form or another since 1965. The group’s 22 studio albums represent an extraordinary body of genre-jumping riches, while the group’s live shows – performed without a prepared set-list (Adams likes to gauge the room in order to give the crowd “what they need”) – have become the stuff of legend. NRBQ’s latest release offers a sampling of everything that makes them great.

“Turn On, Tune In” opens with a six-song set performed for Sirius/XM satellite radio led by “Don’t Ever Change” - a semi-obscure Gerry Goffin and Carole King song that became a top-five UK hit for the Buddy Holly-less Crickets in 1961. A perfectly constructed pop nugget, the song became a favorite of The Beatles, who began mixing it into their set, and later performed it live for BBC radio. NRBQ’s delivery is a reminder of the influence America’s Goffin and King contributed to British beat songwriting in the early to mid-60s.

We hear NRBQ honoring more than five decades of band history by dusting off original Q guitarist Steve Ferguson’s “Step Aside” and Adams’s “Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard” (where prog-rock meets The Three Stooges) and also mixing in more recent songs like “Yes I Will” from Adams’s “Holy Tweet” solo LP.

“Florida” (written by Chris Ligon – Scott’s brother) is a charming and sweet tribute to the sunshine state that first appeared on the songwriter’s 2009 album “Look at the Birdy” (compiled by Terry Adams and released on NRBQ’s Clang label) and was also recorded by The Flat Five (featuring The Q’s Scott Ligon and Casey McDonough) for the sublime 2016 release “It’s a World of Love and Hope.”

Independent listener-supported WFMU-FM in New Jersey has always championed the music of NRBQ and has hosted the band countless times for interviews and live performances on shows hosted by Bob Brainen and Michael Shelley.

Brainen’s liner notes for “Turn On, Tune In” provide context to the entire collection, including the 15-song soundtrack captured at the station’s Monty Hall in Jersey City.

A pro-shot DVD of the performance is included with the CD and LP versions of “Turn On, Tune In” and captures a goosebumps-inducing performance from the band on songs both recent and vintage, including Adams’s “Beautiful Lover,” “Don’t Talk About My Music” (originally recorded by NRBQ side project The Dickens) “Can’t Wait to Kiss You,” the ecologically-minded “Nature’s Gonna Pay You Back,” “The Animal Life” and “Keep This Love Going.”

The contemporary NRBQ executes the classic material with reverence but also with a buoyancy, exuberance and conviction that must be heard to be believed on these versions of “That’s Neat, That’s Nice,” “It Feels Good,” “Things To You” and “RC Cola and a Moon Pie.”

My wife (bless her for agreeing on NRBQ’s “I Love Her, She Loves Me” for the first dance at our wedding) says “They swing just like the old NRBQ” and she’s right.

Longtime fans need not be cautious and new fans should latch onto this new set with enthusiasm. “Turn On, Tune In” is NRBQ today and it’s freaking great.

Last modified on Thursday, 05 September 2019 11:26

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