NRBQ – All Hopped Up (Omnivore Recordings) (review)

NRBQ – All Hopped Up (Omnivore)

NRBQ has been making music, some brilliant, some downright indescribable, for over 50 years now.  All Hopped Up is their fifth album, originally issued in 1977, and it’s finally been reissued by Omnivore Recordings, who even found some bonus tracks.

From their 1969 debut album, NRBQ specialized in genre-hopping, mixing party rockers alongside avant-garde jazz, while tender ballads rubbed shoulders with novelty numbers.

That eclecticism certainly prevented the band from gaining much traction or mass popularity, but it made for interesting albums and incendiary live shows.

All Hopped Up marked the debut of the “classic” NRBQ lineup that would stay intact for two decades – Terry Adams (keyboards), Joey Spampinato (bass), Al Anderson (guitar) and new arrival, Tom Ardolino (drums).  It also was the first LP the band issued independently, on their own Red Rooster label. 

As we find out in the liner notes by John DeAngelis, Anderson had been in the band for several years, but was contractually prohibited from contributing songs until this record.  His “Ridin’ In My Car” opens the album, and it’s one of NRBQ’s finest moments of their long career.  Opening with a gentle acoustic guitar and Anderson’s breezy vocals, the track laments the loss of a girl, but the gorgeous melody and background harmonies make it more wistful than depressing.  That’s followed by another mid-tempo track, “It Feels Good,” augmented by a koto, giving the otherwise straight-ahead track an odd feel.

“Cecilia” (not the Simon & Garfunkel track) is propelled by Adams’ jazzy piano and Spampinato’s walking bass.

In the rockin’ party department, the band covers Jimmy Lloyd’s “I Got a Rocket in My Pocket” and Big Joe Turner’s “Honey Hush.”  Of course it wouldn’t be an NRBQ album without a little bit of absurdity and the countrified “Call Him Off Rogers” and an off-kilter rendition of the “Bonanza” theme certainly qualify.  “Help Me Somebody” is a pounding rocker, while they save one of the best for the last – “That’s Alright” is a jangly, Byrds-inspired track with great harmonies.

Of the four bonus tracks, the funky “Chicken Hearted” has some killer guitar work by Anderson, while “Do the Bump” and “She’s Got to Know” are tongue-in-cheek.  The searing “Start it Over” could be a lost Rockpile track.

For a band that has a reputation for doing a little bit of everything, this record is a surprisingly solid listen from start to finish.

NRBQ fans will be delighted to see their favorite band’s fifth album finally back in print, complete with some killer bonus tracks and informative liner notes.  If you’re new to NRBQ, it’s never too late to join the cult – and this is an excellent place to start.  —Tony Peters