Category Archives: Reviews

Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Boy Named Charlie Brown (Target exclusive)

Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Boy Named Charlie Brown (Craft Recordings)

The album that started it all – reissued on “grass green” vinyl!

The most famous jazz instrumental of all time isn’t by Miles Davis or John Coltrane, it’s from an unassuming pianist and his trio. Vince Guaraldi composed “Linus and Lucy” in 1964 for A Boy Named Charlie Brown, a television special that amazingly never got released. Yet, the album introduced us to this rollicking piece of music, which has become synonymous with the Peanuts’ franchise. It also paved the way for A Charlie Brown Christmas, one of the most famous holiday albums ever recorded, which came out the following year.

Craft Recordings has just issued a “Baseball Card Edition” on “grass green vinyl” (referring to the front cover of Charlie Brown, sitting on top of the pitcher’s mound). This version is exclusively available at Target stores, and comes with a sheet of eight baseball cards, depicting the various Peanuts characters. The card backs are especially fun, revealing that Charlie Brown has never won a game, Lucy’s fielding average is .000, and Snoopy’s favorite sandwich is a Hero.

The music, outside the aforementioned “Linus and Lucy,” is less familiar, but just as enjoyable. Guaraldi had a way of creating melodies that are friendly and fun – something often elusive in the jazz genre.

“Oh Good Grief” sets the mood, with its walking bass of Monty Budwig, followed by the bossa nova of “Pebble Beach” (which reminds me of the old standard, “That Old Feeling”). Guaraldi is all over the piano here, but still manages to not sound “busy.” The Charlie Brown character seems to do a great deal of contemplating and “Happiness Is” is perfect for his self reflection. “Schroeder” is clever in referencing his idol, Beethoven, while the gentle “Charlie Brown Theme” gently swings.

Side two opens with “Linus and Lucy” – it’s funny, it’s called A Boy Named Charlie Brown, but in typical “Charlie Brown fashion,” others steal the show. Colin Bailey’s ride cymbal really jumps out on this vinyl release.

“Blue Charlie Brown” is the longest piece on the album, clocking in at over seven minutes. Guaraldi hits some “blue” notes, and both Budwig and Bailey stretch out here, really catching a groove. “Baseball Theme” is once again playful, perfect accompaniment for the kids’ game, and their shenanigans. The album closes with “Frieda (With the Naturally Curly Hair).” Here, Guaraldi lets his playing swirl behind the swinging rhythm section.

Craft Recordings always go above and beyond on their vinyl reissues, and this is no exception. Mastered specifically for vinyl from the analog tapes by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio. The biggest difference is the double bass really jumps out on this version, giving a fat, warm bottom end.

Just as he did with A Charlie Brown Christmas, Vince Guaraldi creates instrumentals that are warm and inviting. You don’t have to be a fan of jazz to enjoy this. In fact, that’s kind of the point here. It’s jazz for people that don’t like jazz. Yet, this also isn’t a dumbed down version of the genre either. And that’s Guaraldi’s gift, it’s music for everyone. If you’re a fan of the Peanuts’ specials (and who isn’t???), A Boy Named Charlie Brown should be in your collection. The special green vinyl and baseball cards make it even more fun. —Tony Peters

Laura Nyro – Go Find the Moon (review)

Laura Nyro – Go Find the Moon – The Audition Tape (Omnivore Recordings)

The first steps of a singular artist

The year is 1966, five years before Tapestry; a time when women weren’t really taken seriously as artists. In this climate, Laura Nyro, an 18-year old from the Bronx, who sang, played piano and wrote her own songs, auditioned for two record executives. This brief, but revelatory recording has just been issued as Go Find the Moon – The Audition Tape from Omnivore Recordings.

The first song she showcases is also one of her most enduring. “And When I Die” was first sold to Peter, Paul & Mary later in the year, then featured on Nyro’s debut, More Than a New Discovery in 1967, before being taken to #2 on the Billboard charts in a rendition by Blood, Sweat and Tears in 1968. Here, the demo version is rollicking, and the tempo speeds up and slows as she sings. She sounds young, but exudes confidence beyond her years.

That assurance wanes for an instant as she struggles to play “Lazy Susan.” She recovers nicely with the soulful “Enough of You,” one of a trio of songs on here that she never officially recorded. She’s pouring herself into this, you can just feel it. Another of the unreleased tunes is “In and Out,” which is only a brief snippet, but you get to hear her falsetto.

The set is named after the last of the unreleased songs, “Go Find the Moon,” and for good reason – it’s spellbinding. Nyro alternates between gutsy blues and soaring show tune-inspired vocals. This song alone justifies picking up this collection.

“Luckie” is another song that would appear later – opening her sophomore album, Eli and the Thirteenth Confession. This nascent version isn’t really more straightforward as just missing the intricate tempo changes that would accompany the released version.

Toward the end of the audition, you can hear the exec ask her

“Do you do any songs other than those that you’ve written”?

To which she abruptly replies


They ask again

“you don’t know any pop songs? “Stardust”? “Moon River”?

Then Laura responds,

“Of course I know there are other songs, and I know a few lines from each one…maybe.”

At this point she attempts to play snippets (and I do mean snippets) of three songs, “When Sunny Gets Blue,” “Kansas City,” and “I Only Want to Be With You.” But, all these fragments show is just how laser-focused Nyro was as an artist. She wasn’t interested in doing songs by other people and even if she did, those songs still sound like Laura Nyro and no one else.

She ends off by playing one last of her compositions, the gorgeous “Lazy Susan,” this time making it through the entire song.

Here is Laura Nyro, her soulful, sweeping voice and her piano, not tethered to any rhythm or pattern, except her own. And, her songs – chronicling the misfits of the New York underground. Can you imagine what must’ve been going through these two executives’ minds?

Go Find the Moon is brief, clocking in at under twenty minutes. Yet, there’s so much magic here, especially in the three unreleased songs. We get to hear the first steps, some confident, a few tentative, of one of the most unique artists in history. —Tony Peters

Loveland Duren – Any Such Thing (review)

Loveland Duren – Any Such Thing (Edgewood Recordings)

Pair return with their third…and best album to date

As we read in the liner notes to Any Such Thing, the third release from the Memphis duo of Vicki Loveland and Van Duren, this wasn’t an easy process.  First, the pair traveled from Memphis to LA, onto London and then spent a month in Australia, promoting Waiting: The Van Duren Story documentary, which has only seen limited exposure (but is fantastic, btw).  Then, the pandemic happened, sending everyone scurrying home.  Despite the album being put together in fragments, it’s their most cohesive and finest effort yet.

Their previous two releases, 2013’s Bloody Cupid and 2016’s Next are both excellent listens, it’s just that Any Such Thing sounds more focused.  Loveland is a force of nature. Her voice has a soulful, “yeah, lived it” quality that seems to deepen over time.  And Duren sounds rejuvenated – this is the finest singing he’s done in years.  

The album opens with “Tumbledown Hearts,” the catchiest song the duo have ever created.  Loveland and Duren each take a few lines of the verses, before blending their voices for the stellar chorus.  I love the bridge and the fantastic guitar solo from Adam Hill, who’s worked on their previous records.  I found myself singing this one hours later. 

Up next is “A Place of No Place,” a timely snapshot, with references to “children in cages” and “hateful speech.”  It questions why the hell we seem to be taking large leaps backward as a country, yet the rocking accompaniment, featuring the Back to Memphis horns and Loveland’s impassioned vocals, make this bit of truth easier to swallow. 

The ballad, “Within Crying Distance,” is another stand out, and an excellent showcase for Loveland – I’m getting a Memphis, Otis Redding feel from this one.

The layered production of “Ain’t It Pretty to Think So” gives off a mid-period John Lennon vibe (think: “Whatever Gets You Through the Night”) and has fine sax from Art “Paper Bag Brown” Edmaiston.  Their world travels get documented in “Skywriting (Tasmania),” which features a very nice bridge section that goes in a completely different direction, and gives Liam Grundy a chance to play some fine piano.

Things shift gears for “Funny Way of Showing It,” driven by pulsing strings reminiscent of “Eleanor Rigby,” with a little Brian Wilson french horn thrown in for good measure.  There’s a quirky element to “Where Are We Going,” which admits that “love is all there is.”

This is the first of their albums to feature piano prominently.  That, and Duren’s excellent vocals, echo some of his fine, early solo work.  Maybe a year looking back on his career rubbed off a little? One example of this is “Everyone is Out of Tune,” which contains pounding piano, some tasty chord changes and another fine sax break.

I think what really stands out here is that the songs are really strong.  “Bridges I Had to Burn” is a great country rocker – I like the way Eric Lewis’ guitar echoes Loveland’s lyrics.  He also adds some excellent mandolin to the track.

The vinyl edition features a gatefold sleeve, which contains all the lyrics inside at a typeface that you don’t have to squint to read (ok, that last part is only half true – I’m old, I still had to squint, but not as much).  Plus, the nice 12 x 12 size shows off the spectacular front and back cover featuring a stunning piece of collage art.  And, there’s a personal note from the duo inside talking about the music-making process – some of my favorite artists did this in the past.  

The city where both of them are from has always been a melting pot for diverse musical styles.  In Any Such Thing, Loveland Duren have taken the best of what Memphis has to offer and created an entire album of strong, memorable songs that will linger long after you’ve hit the stop button.  —Tony Peters

Nina Simone – Little Girl Blue (review)

Nina Simone – Little Girl Blue (BMG)

One of the greatest debuts of all time gets another look

When an artist first appears on record, they are often still finding their way.  Little Richard sounded like Percy Mayfield early on, even Ray Charles emulated Nat Cole before finding his own voice.  That’s what makes Little Girl Blue, the debut from Nina Simone, so spellbinding – she had already developed most of what would make her one of the most unique artists in the history of music, and it’s all on display right here.  The album has just been reissued from BMG.

It’s her spectacular piano work that opens the swinging take on Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo.”  Sure, she was making popular music, but it was out of necessity – she had to pay the bills and had been denied entry to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.  Still, one can forget just how phenomenal a pianist Simone really was.  It’s also at the heart of her beautiful rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”  

She makes excellent use of pacing and space on the chilly goodbye of “Don’t Smoke in Bed” – you find yourself hanging on every word.  And her voice is so expressive – sultry on “He Needs Me,” yet bouncy on “Love Me or Leave Me.” She had an uncanny ability to draw on various music styles, often in the same song. Just marvel at how she pulls in “Good King Wenceslas” for the opening of “Little Girl Blue.” 

Probably the most impressive track here is “Good Bait,” an instrumental piano piece she composed herself. There’s so many ideas crammed into a mere 5 1/2 minutes that, when it’s finally over, you expect a clamorous applause, it’s just that good.  “Plain Gold Ring” starts out a cappella, and her voice just pulls you in, before the marching accompaniment joins.  

This album also achieved something she never did after, it placed a single in the Top Twenty of the Pop Charts with her smoky version of “I Loves You Porgy” – sounding like nothing else on the radio or jukeboxes at the time.

Consider that this album marked the first time Simone had ever stepped into a recording studio, she barely rehearsed the material with her band, and most of these tracks were all done in one take.  Little Girl Blue could only have come from an artist with laser sharp focus and talent – Nina Simone was on a mission, and this album documents her confident, first steps.

The thing about Little Girl Blue is that there’s absolutely no missteps. It’s a stellar debut that takes risks, and each time, it pays off.  Certainly, Simone would develop her music deeper, she would grow in confidence to speak her mind and enact change through her songs. Yes, she still had growing to do.  But, Little Girl Blue is our first bite of a strange, and often bitter fruit that was Nina Simone.  A landmark in jazz that still sounds as fresh and vibrant as the day it was released.  —Tony Peters

Johnny Mathis – Schuster Performing Arts Center – 8/26/21

Legendary vocalist’s triumphant return to the concert stage

Johnny Mathis, photo by Kendra Peters

Johnny Mathis obviously loves to sing. He was all smiles as he hit the stage in his first performance since the pandemic broke out in 2020. Sporting a green jacket and white pants, he looked and sounded fantastic, especially for someone just days away from his 86th birthday.

Billed as the “65 Years of Romance Tour,” the first half of the show opened with a medley of his biggest ballads, like “It’s Not For Me to Say,” “Chances Are” and “Gina.”

He talked about all the fun he had touring with Henry Mancini before going into a series of the famous instrumentalist’s songs, finishing with a stellar version of “Moon River.” “Stranger in Paradise” was another highlight, along with the surprise Stylistics’ cover, “Betcha By Golly Wow.”

Let me tell you about his voice – still breathtaking, capable of soaring heights and vibrato. In fact, he sounded better on the ballads, which you’d think would be more difficult.

Comedian Brad Upton kept the “Boomer” jokes going while Mathis took a short break.

After intermission, Mathis returned, clad in a black tuxedo. Here, he stretched out more, turning in a bossa nova version of “My Foolish Heart,” before inviting guitarist Kerry Marx to sit with him upfront. While both men sat on stools, they did a phenomenal reading of “Yesterday.” The high point of the night was “Misty,” one of his most famous songs. Here, the orchestra really sparkled, adding the perfect backing while Mathis effortlessly nailed the notes.

While the evening had its share of mellow moments, Mathis kept things moving with a medley of foreign-language tunes, ending with a spirited “Brazil.” The evening came to a close with a rousing take on the Ray Charles’ hit “Let the Good Times Roll,” with the capacity crowd, clapping along.

Throughout the evening, Mathis would occasionally look up toward the heavens and smile. I think he was honestly just happy to be back singing for an audience. With Tony Bennett recently announcing his retirement, Johnny Mathis is perhaps the last of the great crooners. If you get the opportunity, go see this amazing singer. —Tony Peters

Etta James – The Montreux Years (review)

Etta James – The Montreux Years

Etta James – The Montreux Years (Montreux Sounds/BMG)

Legendary vocalist on fire in front of an appreciative Swiss audience

Claude Nobs was the founder of the Montreux Jazz Festival. Not only was he the organizer and host, he often joined the musicians on stage during their performances. Sadly, he passed away in 2013, but his legacy lives on in the Claude Nobs Foundation, which boasts one of the largest libraries of live performances anywhere. These previously-unreleased concerts are finally starting to see the light of day.

Etta James was an artist that was known to leave it all out there on stage. The Montreux Years compiles several shows over a twenty-year span, and really shows her maturation as an artist.

Disc two is devoted entirely to a set she did in 1975, the first time she ever played in Europe, and her musical director, Brian Ray, was only 20 years old at the time. Oddly, they list all the players on all the concerts, EXCEPT 1975. But, you can clearly hear them introduce Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones on bass (!). She covers the recent Staple Singers’ hit, “Respect Yourself,” before turning in an absolutely spellbinding take on “Drown in My Own Tears.”

She has lots of fun joking with the crowd about the language barrier – especially before going into “W-O-M-A-N.” There’s a funky middle section where she sings “shake your booty,” a full year before KC & the Sunshine Band would hit with a similar theme. While there are a lot of the “standard” blues tunes, her band handles them with their own flavor, keeping them interesting. Jones’ bass really powers the driving version of “Dust Your Broom.” She makes good use of singing and talking off mic during a fantastic “I’d Rather Go Blind.”

For disc one, James is joined by an all-star cast of players, including, at times, Rick Wakeman on keys, David “Fathead” Newman on sax, Steve Ferrone on drums.

There was something about Otis Redding’s compositions – perhaps they were better suited for women. Just like Aretha borrowed “Respect” and made it her own, Etta performed several Redding songs and just took them up another notch. Here, she tackles “I Got the Will” and just sounds possessed. The stripped-down Steve Goodman ballad, “A Lover is Forever” is so full of pain and desperation – she’s lived these lyrics.

She asks the crowd “did you go buy it” before launching into a song from her then-recent album, Seven Year Itch, the phenomenal “Damn Your Eyes.” She practically spits the words to “Tell Mama.” This arrangement sounds like “Soul Finger” from the Bar Kays. Claude Nobbs, the festival’s founder guests on harmonica on “Running and Hiding Blues.” She growls on the opening lines to “Something’s Gotta Hold on Me,” before settling into a groove backed by the horns.

Particularly good is the funky take on “Come to Mama.” Dig how she says “let me be / let me be your pacifier”! She jokes “I think they thought I was gonna be a jazz singer,” before going into a medley of three of her best ballads – “At Last,” “Trust in Me,” and “A Sunday Kind of Love.”

As in the other Montreux titles in this series, the tracks span a wide period of time, from 1975 to 1993. Honestly, I think she gets better as she gets older, she learned to get more command of her voice. There’s also fantastic liner notes, giving some background on where everything originated.

The Montreux Years reminds us that Etta James was a force of nature in concert. —Tony Peters

Alex Chilton – Live on Beale Street (review)

Alex Chilton and the Hi Rhythm Section – Boogie Shoes – Live on Beale Street (Omnivore)

A hot set of classic soul, and…KC & the Sunshine Band?  Yep.  

Being from Memphis, Alex Chilton was certainly influenced by the incredible music coming out of that city.  At the tender age of 15, he led the Box Tops to the #1 hit “The Letter,” then spent the early 1970’s in the under-appreciated power pop combo Big Star, before embarking on a solo career –  doing whatever the hell he wanted.  But, Chilton grew up in music and certainly could lead a band on command.  

When fellow musician Fred Ford fell ill, a benefit was created in his honor and Chilton was tabbed because of his popularity to sell tickets.  At the time, Chilton didn’t have a band, so he teamed with the legendary Hi Rhythm section, and without so much as a rehearsal, got up and just tore it up. 

The KC & the Sunshine Band staple “Boogie Shoes” might seem like a snarky choice, but the band and Chilton totally pull it off.  Less convincing is “Precious, Precious,” maybe because it was originally done by a woman?  But, with Wilson Pickett’s “634-5789” things get back on track.

It’s funny to hear the talking between songs – Chilton literally says “let’s play Kansas City in C” and away they go.  That’s the beauty of being surrounded by pros.  The Memphis Horns really shine on this one, what a great trumpet solo.  Again, remember there was absolutely no rehearsal here.  “Lucille” features a fantastic sax break and then Chilton takes one on guitar.

The set closes with “Trying to Live My Life Without You” which was a Memphis tune recorded at the Hi Records studio.  A fitting way to bring everything back to where it all began.  —Tony Peters 

Allman Brothers Band – Fillmore East, February 1970 (review)

Allman Brothers Band – Fillmore East, February 1970 – Bear’s Sonic Journals (Owsley Stanley Foundation / Allman Brothers Band Recording Co)

Early Allmans – young, hungry and third on the bill!

The Allman Brothers Band are considered one of the greatest live acts in the history of rock.  Yet, there was a time when they were just another group of musicians starting out. Bear’s Sonic Journals – Fillmore East, February 1970 is rare opportunity to hear this great band on their way up.

Yes, February 1970, 13 months prior to their now-legendary performance at the famed club owned by Bill Graham, which would be used for At Fillmore East, widely-considered one of the greatest live albums of all time.  But here, these recordings find the sextet after only together for a year, and just a few months removed from the disappointing sales of their debut album.  The band is less refined for sure.  They were third on the bill, behind the Grateful Dead and the psychedelic band, Love.  

“In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” is the first documented live performance of this Dickey Betts’ instrumental.  Drummer Butch Trucks is playing a cowbell and the song seems to lumber at a tentative pace.  Betts comes in at the wrong time to signal the transition out of his solo, and Gregg comes in too early for his organ solo on one of the takes.  The track begins in mono before falling into stereo – Bear was probably just getting the sound right, as he had never mixed the Allman Brothers before. 

Duane Allman does most of the between song banter, introducing bassist Berry Oakley as “the band’s sex symbol” before launching into a furious version of “Hoochie Coochie Man.”

It’s cool to hear them tune down before going into an early version of “Statesboro Blues.”  The drums are not as tight as their version from 13 months later, but Duane is fiery on slide, while Betts provides the stinging counterpoint.  “Trouble No More” is played at a breakneck pace and it seems like everything could come unhinged at any time – this, and other songs, would get more nuanced after a year of non-stop touring.  

On the 14th show, right before “Whipping Post,” I swear Dickey Betts is playing the beginning of what would eventually be his “Blue Sky.”

Owsley Stanley, known as “Bear,” was arguably the finest live soundman of his era and his “sonic journals’ have become legendary – he had a somewhat unorthodox way of mixing – the percussion is panned wide, and even the vocals are often only out of one speaker.  But, this is exactly the way the Fillmore audience heard these performances.

The package is made up of three discs.  Discs two and three are true “sonic journals” – exactly as the music happened on February 11th, 13th, and 14th of 1970.  Mistakes left in, no fixes.  Also, at some point, tapes would run out and Bear had to change them.  This means that some songs are incomplete.  

That’s where disc one comes in – it’s a compilation of all three nights’ shows – taking the best of everything available.  So, a song might start from one night’s performance, and end with another.  For instance, because of the extended length of “Mountain Jam,” Bear wasn’t able to capture a complete performance of the song on any of the three nights.  However, they spliced the beginning of the 14th show and ended with the 13th and you get a “complete” performance of the song.

In these concerts, the Allmans are hungry, they’ve got everything to prove and they’re going for broke.  There are times when the performances are full of aggression.  After a year of touring and just being around each other, these rough edges would smooth out and congeal into a well-oiled machine.  Here, you can still hear some of the working parts.

The biggest takeaway from Fillmore East 1970 is just how phenomenally talented the original lineup of the Allman Brothers Band truly were.  Out of all the Allman archival releases, this is one of the most revelatory.  —Tony Peters

Laura Nyro – Trees of Ages – Live in Japan (review)

Laura Nyro – Trees of Ages – Live in Japan (Omnivore Recordings)  

Staggeringly good live album showcases under appreciated songwriter

Yes, Laura Nyro was that good.  Sadly, the world wasn’t fully ready for her unbridled talent.  Her compositions drew on classic doo wop, girl groups,  jazz, folk, even Broadway musicals.  Her songs sped up and slowed down, bending to her wishes rather than keeping time to a monotonous beat. Other artists, like Blood, Sweat and Tears, the Fifth Dimension, Three Dog Night and Barbra Streisand, would take her songs and have hits, while Nyro languished in relative obscurity.  Her voice – what range and soul!  And, even though she would disappear for years and then come out of retirement now and again, she always kept her gifts, right up to her untimely passing in 1997, at the age of 49.  

All of her talents are on full display in a new, archival live set from Omnivore Recordings called Trees of Ages – Live in Japan – available in the US for the first time.  

Nyro was a sucker for girl groups – they were a huge influence on her as a young woman.  That’s all well and good on paper.  But, listening to her rendition of the Shirelles’ “Dedicated to the One I Love” is something entirely different – an otherworldly experience, as she imparts a mature perspective on this well-known classic.   I’m just blown away.  She goes from that to Smokey Robinson’s “Ooo Baby Baby,” an extremely difficult song to sing – and she just nails it – changing the songs tempo at will, and even the key at one point.

Several songs are from what would be her final studio album, Walk the Dog and Light the Light.  Despite taking long stretches of time away from the spotlight, these compositions showed that she’d lost none of her abilities.  “A Woman of the World” is soulful, “Louise’s Church” name checks some of her idols and has a fabulous vocal coda, while “Lite a Flame (The Animal Rights Song) shows that her activism hadn’t lost any of its bite.  

Her version of “And When I Die” is telling – she would be gone in under three years, and her delivery is steeped with a wisdom of someone who probably knows their time is short.  Gone are some of her vocal acrobatics of her original from the late Sixties, replaced by a soulful assuredness.  

During one of her sabbaticals from the music business, she would have a son, and “To a Child” is one of her best latter day compositions.  Her voice soars in classic fashion in another recent track, “The Descent of Luna Rose.”

Mostly, the concert is just Nyro on piano and vocals, but she’s joined from time to time by a trio of singers named Diana (!) and they shine on “Wild World,” while the crowd claps along with “Wedding Bell Blues,” perhaps her most enduring song.

She weaves an interesting medley of “Tree of Ages” and her classic “Emmie” (from her breakthrough Eli and the Thirteenth Confession).  She also has time to dig back to her roots for a fantastic rendition of “Walk on By” and the Everly’s “Let it Be Me.”  

The fidelity is crisp, allowing her voice to come through and touch you deeply. Trees of the Ages is an excellent reminder of Laura Nyro’s singular talent.  Any fan of her music should make this a part of their collection.  —Tony Peters

Various Artists – Party For Joey (review)

Various Artists – Party For Joey – A Sweet Relief Tribute to Joey Spampinato (True North Records)

Good fun…with a purpose

NRBQ is a band that’s always believed in music without borders – they never had a hit song on the radio or a successful album on the Billboard charts, due in part that they never settled on a genre of music.  They did it all – really well.  Their bassist for the first 40 years of their existence was Joey Spampinato.  Although he’s not a household name, Bonnie Raitt has recorded his songs and Keith Richards picked him to play on his Chuck Berry tribute, Hail! Hail! Rock n’ Roll.  Joey has recently fallen into ill health, so his fellow musicians have banded together for a fundraising album of some of his compositions.

Spampinato had a knack for writing fun songs that sound great cranked at high volumes, so this might be a good candidate for your next party.

The set leads off with fellow NRBQ-alum Al Anderson’s solo take on “You Can’t Hide,” which is very faithful to the original band version.  Los Lobos is the perfect band for “Every Boy, Every Girl,” because they really make it swing.  Deer Tick does a Creedence-infused version of “That I Get Back Home.”

One of the many surprises is the all-star teaming of Keith Richards (guitar), Charlie Musselwhite (harmonica), Ben Harper (vocals), Don Was (bass) and Don Heffington (drums) on a searing take of “Like a Locomotive.”  These recordings sadly mark some of the last of drummer Heffington’s, who played on hundreds of recordings, and was a member of Lone Justice.

Peter Case is no stranger to roots rock, and he turns in a faithful reading of the rockabilly rave up “Don’t Knock on My Door.” The Minus 5, another all-star collaboration featuring members of R.E.M., do an off-kilter version of “Don’t She Look Good.”

Most artists are very faithful to Joey’s original.  One exception is the ethereal, harmony-laden, yet sparse “How Can I Make You Love Me” by She and Him – it’s absolutely gorgeous, and Steve Forbert adds a banjo to the Spampinato ballad “Beverly.”  

Bonnie Raitt liked Spampinato so much, she titled an album after one of his songs, “Green Lights.” Here, Raitt reprises that role, joined by the current version of NRBQ, with arguably a better vocal than her original from 1982.

Although most of Spampinato’s songs borrow heavily from early rock n’ roll, there’s still room for diversity.  Robbie Fulks is the perfect fit for the countrified “Chores,” while Penn and Teller take “Plenty of Somethin’” and well, give it the Penn and Teller treatment.

As a bonus, Joey’s wife duets with Joey himself on the final track, “First Crush,” which has a smoky jazz feel, complete with a flugelhorn solo.  

Obviously, the first goal of a disc like this is to raise funds.  But, the music contained in this tribute is just so damn infectious.  Joey Spampinato may have never written a hit song – but this set shows that he had a knack for writing fun songs that were catchy as hell.  Every musician turns in a stellar performance, making this the rare tribute album that transcends its initial goal – it stands on its own as just a great collection of songs. —Tony Peters