NRBQ – Tiddlywinks (review)

NRBQ – Tiddlywinks (Omnivore Recordngs)

In retrospect, this might be the band’s finest record

Every new album from NRBQ is an adventure.  From the get go, the band’s main focus was to play…everything.  What genre they are varies from song to song.  That ecclecticism made it impossible to market, but was an absolute joy to their devout followers.  

Tiddlywinks, the band’s eighth album, continues the remastering campaign from Omnivore, which began with the excellent box set, High Noon: A 50-Year Retrospective in 2016.

This album just sounds fantastic. 

Engineer Tom Mark talks about all the work that went into this record in the liner notes.  Take, for example, the leadoff track, “Feel You Around Me.”  The bouncy beat and catchy melody mask the fact that there’s a lot going on here; layers of instruments (I swear there’s a ukulele in there somewhere), plus a soulful vocal from Al Anderson.  

That’s followed by one of NRBQ’s most famous tunes: “Me and the Boys,” one of the all-time great drivin’ tunes that just sounds better the further down you press the accelerator.  The song has been covered by everyone from Bonnie Raitt to Dave Edmunds, but there’s something more raw and off-kilter about the original – fantastic drumming from Tom Ardolino, and strange noises fading in and out.  Oh, a great vocal from Terry Adams too.

Since there was no way they were going to top that, the band shifts gears for the jumpin’ jazz of the “Music Goes Round and Around,” which dates back to the 1930’s and Tommy Dorsey.  Here, the band is on fire.  The Whole Wheat Horns are on full display while Adams hammers on clavinet.    

After those dizzying heights, it’s time to slow things down with bassist Joey Spampinato’s gorgeous, acoustic “Beverly.”  The harmonies will give you goosebumps and the clever keyboards add some nice flair.  Adams’ “That I Get Back Home” reminds me of Beatles’ around the Second Album era (dig the tasty, Rockabilly-infused guitar solo from Anderson, and the clever use of flange in certain places).  

And, as in all NRBQ albums, just when you thought they were gonna play it straight…nope.  “Roll Call” is, um, hard to describe.  It starts slow with just Adams singing and piano, then bursts into this incredibly catchy section featuring chiming guitars and keys, while he asks “are you here,” but then the songs quickly drops into country during the verses.  

Side two of the original album opens with the boogie woogie of “Want You to Feel Good Too.”  Geez, Anderson had a knack for writing beautiful, midtempo numbers that should’ve been hits on soft rock stations (“Ridin’ In My Car,” anyone?).  “Never Take the Place of You” would fit perfectly on some of these Yacht Rock stations, pounding piano, soulful vocal, and even “ooos” on the background vocals.  I mean, it could be Robbie Dupree or Stephen Bishop.

Things get back to rockin’ with Spampinato’s “You Can’t Hide,” but turn cute with Adams’ “Definition of Love,” featuring a tasty, countrified solo by Anderson.  Things end on the wordless, “Hobbies,” which features some Monk-ish piano plinking and honkin’ sax, the entire things ends with Adams moaning.

They’ve unearthed a few bonus tracks as well.  The harmony-laden “I Don’t Think of…” reminds me of classic Buck Owens, while Adams’ “Big Goodbyes” sounds disjointed until the chorus arrives.   There’s also a pair of commercials (one radio, one TV) featuring wrestler sensation, Captain Lou Albano, that you just have to hear to believe.  

While diversity has always been a hallmark of NRBQ’s albums, Tiddlywinks may, in fact, be the most solid collection in their catalog.  Literally, everything here works – there’s not a miss in the bunch.  Which makes Tiddlywinks an excellent entry point into the glorious world of NRBQ.  —Tony Peters