Omnivore put out an epic five disc box set last year, trying to somehow encapsulate the fifty year history of NRBQ. There was no way for the label to summarize just what makes this band so amazing in a mere five CDs, so they’re forgiven for missing a mark that really no one could hit. The fact that they even tried earns them major kudos. This time around they’ve reissued the band’s first album, NRBQ. Released in 1969, this record introduced to rock fans the wide world of the New Rhythm & Blues Quintet, a band name that also tried to encapsulate just what these guys were all about. It’s a wonder that Columbia Records signed these guys and put out a few records by them in the first place. Because you can’t pigeonhole NRBQ. They’re primarily a rock band, sure, but where do they stand in that strata? Hard rock? No. Country rock? A little. Jazz? Well, how many rock bands have covered Sun Ra (besides MC5)? Rockabilly? Sometimes. A mixture of all of those sub genres and more – that’s what NRBQ does. Imagine what a tough job the marketing department had trying to figure out who to sell this record to!
On NRBQ, the band – fronted by vocalist Frank Gadler, Steve Ferguson on guitar/ vocals and Terry Adams on keyboards/ vocals – demonstrates much of what made them so amazing. From covers of Eddie Cochran (“C’mon Everybody”) and Bruce Channel (“Hey! Baby”) to their hard rockin’ take of the aforementioned Sun Ra’s “Rocket Number 9,” to their own slightly countryish tunes like “Kentucky Slop Song” and the MOR-y “You Can’t Hide,” plus a neat little traditional ditty called “Liza Jane” that induces someone’s hound dog to bark along with it – phew! – the genres and influences on this record make it a hard sell on paper. So you gotta put this motherfucker on and let it do its thing! It comes down to this: you either get NRBQ, or you don’t. That’s been the problem since day one, because if you say that to the Q virgin you’re gonna sound like an asshole. But it’s the truth. And you don’t wanna be called a liar, do you?
Judging from the pre-release digital download, and comparing that to my ’80s vinyl pressing, Omnivore’s done a great job with NRBQ. They’ve expanded the cover to a gatefold, added some historical photos, and likely created new liner notes. (The original release’s back cover is nothing but liner notes, and they’re very much of the era in their language and longwindedness.) Considering the album’s never been out on CD, this reissue is important to longstanding NRBQ fans. For those who haven’t gotten into them yet, well, why not start here? You could try the box set or the one disc highlights release, or grab one of the other compilations that can be found on the internet, but don’t (yet). Just get this and give it a shot. You may just find you get it. If you don’t, then wait a few years and try again. Maybe by then Omnivore will have put out NRBQ’s second album, the one they did with Carl Fucking Perkins!
3.5/5 (Omnivore, 2018)