First released in 2016 and now freshly repressed, High Noon – A 50-Year Retrospective is the NRBQ collection to end all collections. Unlike numerous one- and two-disc packages that have tried to sum up the New Rhythm & Blues Quartet’s unique take on rock ’n’ roll, this set does the job nicely. The fact that it took five CDs to do it means that this was no easy feat. Trying to describe NRBQ in one review, likewise, ain’t gonna be easy. And yet, I’m gonna try.
NRBQ are like the tastiest stew you’ve ever had. With every spoonful you get a taste of something different. You might get something rockabilly inspired like “RC Cola and a Moon Pie,” you might get a country funk like “Flat Foot Flewzy,” you might get a power pop classic like “Me and the Boys,” or you might get a sweet little pop ballad like “This Love Is True,” or any other of the many different flavors NRBQ adds to the pot. They are one of the few bands who can play about any style you’d care to hear. They’re also hard to classify, genre-wise, because even when they’re doing “rockabilly” they’re adding something to make it seem like a whole new style. From song to song, album to album, and especially era to era, there are elements that are always there: musicianship, humor, exuberance and zeal. Whether it’s Terry Adams’ crazed clavinet or piano playing, Al Anderson’s killer guitar picking, or any of the other members’ talents (too many over 50 years to name here), NRBQ never fail to deliver… whatever it is they’re trying to deliver.
Curiously, Omnivore’s superb look at the 50 year old group starts somewhere toward the end (or present-day, I should say, since NRBQ is still together), goes back to the beginning (1966!) and then works its way back to where we started. Not so curiously, I began back in ’66 with Disc 2, being pretty familiar with the band’s early stuff, then through the ’70s and ’80s material – the ’Q I like the most – and up to where High Noon ends in the 20-teens. I’m still digesting the band’s last two decades (what with the multiple personnel changes, even more stylistic turns, etc.) and High Noon gives me a good way to do that, with Discs 1 and 5 covering the second half of their history (1989-2016). So far I really like the Buck Owens flavored “Fightin’ Back” and “21-50 to Headquarters.” With 116 tracks, you’d think this behemoth would be overkill. Not so. In a way, it just begins to tell the NRBQ story. I mean, there are classic cuts in their canon that aren’t even here (hello, “When Things Was Cheap” and their covers of “Wild Weekend” and “Tonight You Belong to Me”)!
Knowing that a 5 CD compilation might be too much commitment for some, the record label took the liberty of putting out High Noon in a two disc “highlights” version and a 2 LP set, too. The track list on both of those looks worthy of your time if you’re not sure you’re up to the task of digesting so much NRBQ, but seriously, if you go that route you’ll probably end up buying this package anyway. And maybe that was Omnivore’s idea all along. — Marsh Gooch
4.5/5 (Omnivore Recordings OVCD-190, 2016/2020)