Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
The little engine that could is this band from Louisville, Kentucky named The New Rhythm And Blues Quintet, or NRBQ. I used to hear NRBQ in the early 80s on the great WHFS out of Bethesda, before it was sold to WTOP. I remember this band was quirky and funny, but clearly these guys were some seriously talented musicians. And not just a little bit of talent, but a whole boat load of talent.
The fact that NRBQ has never even been nominated to be inducted in The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame (RARHOF) in not an indictment of the band, but an indictment of RARHOF. These guys influenced countless bands that came after them and truly reshaped the landscape of music. They didn’t only expand boundaries, they destroyed them. Before NRBQ, it was not common to to blend jazz, country, blues, and rock together. NRBQ was on the cusp of a real revolution in music.
This is not your garden variety reissue either. In fact, this album has never been reissued on CD or in an electronic format. That, to me, is completely unbelievable. Oh well, that is spilt milk at this point because Omnivore Recordings did what had to be done and reissued the album that started it all. Any music fan worth their weight in salt will want to obtain this musical landmark.
This self titled debut traverses the landscape from avant-garde jazz, polka, blues, rock, honky tonk, among others. This is a historical record of a band that was, and is, a game changer. It is interesting to hear NRBQ in its entirety for the very first time. It is like opening a map. Although this album is less polished than the ones that came after it, this collection is point A in the progression of NRBQ. This album is a microcosm of NRBQ. The songs are so varied in style but all are executed perfectly.
Just listening to a cover song on this album tells me everything I would need to know about the character and make up of NRBQ. This is a cover of a Sun Ra song. Sun Ra was an eccentric jazz artist that was pretty much ignored by the mainstream media for his entire 50+ year career. Who would cover a Sun Ra a song in 1969? NRBQ, that’s who. This one cover selection tells me that the band in more concerned about exploration and musical integrity than they are about mainstream success. I don’t think that philosophy ever wavered throughout their entire career.
This isn’t even a plea, this is an order. If you call yourself a music connoisseur, you must own this album. I know most people haven’t heard the whole thing because you can’t even find it with the collectibles. I would imagine that the original would be up there with the Badfinger albums on Apple records. Suffice it to stay, this isn’t just another re-issue, this a true event. This will open the door for new NRBQ fans that will undoubtedly want to start their own band after listening.