Omnivore Recordings has enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with The New Rhythm and Blues Quartet (NRBQ), from 2016’s High Noon – A 50-Year Retrospective through subsequent reissues, new music, and collections. The latest, in frequencies, brings together 16 rarities from the band’s long and diverse discography spanning 1968-2018, with all but four tracks previously unreleased.
NRBQ has flourished over the years even as the personnel has shifted numerous times, with only keyboardist Terry Adams remaining from the original lineup. From the time of their 1968 debut album – which featured Adams (piano), Joey Spampinato (bass), Steve Ferguson (guitar), Frank Gadler (vocals), and Tom Staley (percussion) – the group distinguished itself with its all-encompassing fusion of rock, pop, jazz, rhythm and blues, folk, and country from past and present. A sense of humor and a penchant for spontaneity and invention have also served them well. The longest-running roster, with Adams, Spampinato, guitarist-singer Al Anderson, and Tom Ardolino stayed together for 20 years, from 1974-1994; that group is well-represented on this collection.
Surf-rock, rockabilly, doo-wop, pop, and classics from Elvis Presley to Al Jolson – they’re all here. Such a diversity of material might hinder the cohesiveness of another rarities collection, but in NRBQ’s case, it makes perfect sense given the band’s rich musical lineage. A 1968 soundcheck of the Steve Ferguson-penned instrumental “Dogwood Winter” opens the set, a cascade of guitars serving as a prelude for what’s to come. Only four tracks on in-frequencies have been previously issued, and all four are choice and suitably rare.
NRBQ formed The Dickens as an offshoot group meant to spoof the heavy rock exemplified by Vanilla Fudge or Led Zeppelin; the elaborate prank was that the band would send out their heavily-amplified roadies to play instruments they’d never touched before in front of stoned audiences who may or may not have been in on the joke. But was the joke on them when Scepter Records actually signed the band? The Dickens’ time at the label was a brief one, as Scepter founder Florence Greenberg didn’t take kindly to their music and reportedly had all but a handful of copies of their lone single destroyed. But here’s one side of that 1970 white label promo 45, “Sho’ Needs Love.” This hazy, psychedelic romp featuring Joey Spampinato, NRBQ horn players Keith Spring and Donn Adams (Terry’s brother), road manager Dom Placco, and Donn’s wife Susan Adams is based around a simple lyric with an insistent piano part, haunting, double-tracked group vocals, and raw guitar. The spellbinding, brief (under two minutes) track commands three figures – if a copy of the original Scepter single even shows up.
The low-key 1971 rendition of The Delmore Brothers’ 1949 cowboy song “Blues Stay Away from Me” was recorded with legendary engineer Eddie Kramer live in the studio, and features Spampinato, Adams, and Gadler singing a la the Delmores. It was first released on a 2000 collection. Steve Ferguson’s retro-style “Sourpuss” was recorded just a few years later in Memphis and issued on a Select-o-Hits single. The most recent track here is “April Showers” from 2018. The 1921 song was introduced by Al Jolson with whom it remains associated. NRBQ were able to bring it into the present without resorting to cheap irony; it was recorded for the film Change in the Air under the aegis of the late, great Hal Willner, a visionary producer taken too soon by the ravages of COVID-19.
The unreleased material is just as eclectic and just as much fun. Terry Adams wrote some of the most enjoyable tracks with his swinging admonition to “Get Real” and his goofy, fun tribute to the Baltimore “Orioles” (with catchy “Tweet-tweet!” refrain). The late-night vocal jazz of Spampinato’s “Love Came to Me” was captured on WDET-FM in 1999; the studio version appeared that year on the band’s self-titled Rounder Records album.
NRBQ frequently made classic songs their own. The band transformed The Rockin’ Rebels’ 1963 surf-rock instrumental “Wild Weekend” by adding new lyrics; the rechristened “It’s a Wild Weekend” is heard in a loose 1987 soundcheck and would appear in studio form two years later on the Virgin Records label. A 1976 outtake recorded at Bearsville Studios of the R&B oldie-but-goodie “That’s All” (introduced by Etta James in 1955) shows off NRBQ’s smoking horn section as well as Al Anderson’s strong vocals. The Duprees’ “My Dearest One” (featuring Scott Ligon’s impassioned lead) and a tongue-in-cheek take on The Dixie Cups’ “Chapel of Love” are both outtakes from 2012’s Keep This Love Goin’. There’s even an Elvis tribute: a joyful run through Elvis’ “Too Much” from a 1994 Memphis tribute concert to The King. M.C. Kostek’s notes share an amusing anecdote about playing the song in the presence of Elvis’ original guitarist Scotty Moore as the horns took on his original guitar part.
NRBQ has already released a couple of tracks from their 1976 Trinity College performance (“Chores” on Kick Me Hard and “Be My Woman Tonight” on High Noon), and in-frequencies presents a third, the rollicking “We’ll Make Love” led by the bluesy Anderson and featuring Donn Adams and Keith Spring’s Whole Wheat Horns again at full force. One amusing relic is “Everybody’s Smokin’,” derived from the band’s habit of taking a smoke break while onstage. This version of the spontaneously-crafted song dates back to 1993.
Produced by Omnivore’s Cheryl Pawelski and ArQive 50 Research and mastered by Gary Hobish, in-frequencies is housed in a digipak and includes a 12-page booklet with an introduction by Terry Adams as well as Kostek’s liner notes. This delightful set (also available on vinyl and digital platforms) leaves one with the hope that future releases from the NRBQ archives won’t be, well, infrequent.
- Dogwood Winter (Soundcheck Recording)
- Get Real
- Sho’ Need Love – The Dickens (Scepter single SCE-12322, 1970)
- It’s a Wild Weekend (Soundcheck Recording)
- Let Me Tell You ‘Bout My Girl
- Love Came to Me (Live at WDET-FM)
- We’ll Make Love (Live at Trinity College)
- April Showers (from April Showers digital EP, Omnivore OVDG-317, 2018)
- That’s All
- Everybody’s Smokin’ (Alternate Version)
- Blues Stay Away from Me (from Scraps Companion, Edisun ED-12, 2000)
- My Dearest One
- Sourpuss (Select-o-Hits single SOH 022, 1974)
- Too Much (Live at the Pyramid Arena)
- Chapel of Love
All tracks previously unreleased except Tracks 3, 9, 12 & 14