The ‘Q, That’s Who?

One of my favorite post-Jazz Fest shows was an NRBQ show at Jimmy’s that began with the room so packed that I was sitting on top of a videogame by necessity not choice for much of the opening act. When the ‘Q came out, they played a challenging, obstinate set, and once they’d cut the crowd by at least a third an hour or so later, they brought rock ‘n’ roll fastball after fastball – exactly the set that the people who left were hoping for when Terry Adams took one more turn to smash and bash the cymbals behind the drum kit.

That cemented my affection for the band, but I approached NRBQ’s Keep This Love Goin’ (Clang) warily. On one hand, Adams is the only remaining member of the band, so it’s hard to call it NRBQ, but rightly or wrongly, I’ve always attributed the sensibility in the band that spoke to me to Adams, so it seems like it should work.

Those who worry that an Adams-driven NRBQ would indulge his every ornery impulse will be surprised, unless he’s being ornery by delivering an album of pop songs. They’re not as memorable as “Riding in My Car” or “Rain at the Drive-In,” but they’re in that mode, seemingly rooted to some point in the Sixties that you can’t put your finger on.

If anything, Keep This Love Goin’ may be a little too democratic. New members Scott Ligon and Pete Donnelly get lead vocal turns and writing credits, but they don’t demonstrate enough personality in their playing, singing or writing to make them strong foils for Adams. They play well with him and make a good pop album together, but the contrasting voices, styles and sensibilities defined the ‘Q.

Adams reiterates his affection for zydeco legend Boozoo Chavis here, imagining a conversation between him and his wife in “Boozoo and Leona,” and the album could use more moments like it, the subtly struggling version of the standard “Gone with the Wind” and Pet Sounds-esque “Talk.” Those tracks and the Little Richard instrumental “Red’s Piano” give me hope that the things that made NRBQ distinctive for so long can be found in this incarnation as it grows together.