Looking back in retrospect, NRBQ’s eponymous debut seems like a remarkable feat even now. A stunningly uncommon collision of styles and sounds, it was amazingly adventurous, exploratory and wholly beyond definition when it was originally unleashed without warning in 1969. Even at a time when artists were given complete license to experiment and adapt to whatever progressive posture found them in keeping with the times, NRBQ was -- and still remains -- a dizzying, dazzling achievement, an example of complete creative control taken to its most unexpected extremes.
It’s surprising then that the album has never been reissued before, making it not only a curiosity but something of a great lost gem as well. It finds the band seamlessly shifting from one genre to another, segueing effortlessly from a loose and limber take on Eddie Cochran’s “C’mon Everybody” to the avante garde expressionism of Sun Ra and Carla Bley (as represented by “Rocket #9 and “Ida, respectively). For the listener that’s able to absorb those examples of eccentricity in stride, there’s considerably more oddities that await, from an otherwise orthodox version of Bruce Chanel’s classic “Hey!Baby” to the abnormally indescribable closer, “Stay With Me.” Suffice it to say there’s never been a set list quite like the one it offered.
Remarkably throughout, the group take their task in stride. They insisted at the time that they would do it all in a single take, and the results sound as spontaneous as that decision implies. They croon and caress the melodies one moment, and then dash off a half-hearted read another, never appearing to take themselves or their efforts too seriously. And yet, NRBQ is a bold statement, one that makes it clear that this band will never allow themselves to be categorized or deterred in their determination to defy any and all musical mantras. Fifty years on, they’re still doing the same, as recent the releases of last year’s Happy Talk EP and the sprawling five disc retrospective High Noon consistently make clear.
Ultimately, NRBQ provide proof that trendiness doesn’t necessarily ensure edge, intellect or skill. Rootsy raconteurs of the highest calibre, NRBQ continue to pave their own path forward.