Skeeter Davis & NRBQ – She Sings, They Play (review)

Skeeter Davis & NRBQ – She Sings, They Play (Omnivore Recordings)

Great fun – truly a lost classic – back in print

On paper, this might be one of the strangest pairings in popular music: country star Skeeter Davis and genre-hopping bandits NRBQ.  Yet, after a closer look, it makes perfect sense.  Davis remains the only artist in the history of the Billboard singles to have a Top 5 hit on four distinctively different charts at the same time: Country, Pop, Easy Listening, and, most impressively, R&B.  The song in question was “The End of the World,” and it became Davis’ signature song.

One might expect that NRBQ might tone things down in the presence of country royalty, but you’d be wrong.  One of the reasons this pairing works so well is that both artists get to be totally themselves. 

The album opens with “Things to You,” a song originally included on the Q’s album All Hopped Up from 1977.  This version has a more relaxed feel and Skeeter’s vocal and harmonies elevate it to new levels. That’s followed by the very funny Davis original, “Everybody Wants a Cowboy,” – I love the lyric “I just saw John Travolty / now he’s a cowboy too.”  It’s a juiced-up, twangy good time.  

Next is the Joey Spampinato composition, “I Can’t Stop Loving You Now,” which despite the pedal steel, is still an NRBQ song through and through (Davis and Spampinato would eventually marry).  “Heart to Heart” is an excellent duet between Davis and Al Anderson, then she teams with Terry Anderson on “Ain’t Nice To Talk Like That,” complete with a trombone solo!

Davis wrote the autobiographical “Everybody’s Clown,” which hits pretty close to anyone that’s been a musician, it’s very lonely on the road.  Any fan of NRBQ knows that each album contains at least one curveball – and in this case, a hopped up, 4/4 reading of the jazz standard, “Someday My Prince Will Come.”  Then comes the acoustic, Adams’ ballad, “How Many Tears.”  

There are several bonus tracks that really enhance things.  “I Want You Bad” shows off Davis’ versatility  – she really rocks up this track that first appeared on NRBQ’s At Yankee Stadium album.  There’s also several bonus live cuts from a Bottom Line concert from 1985.  It’s cute to hear Skeeter surprised that anyone in the audience remembers her “Gonna Get Along Without You Now” song from 1964.

Above all, there’s humor that runs throughout the proceedings – you can tell that everyone was having a blast.  This pairing worked so well, it’s a shame it only happened once.  But She Sings, They Play marks one of the greatest achievements for both Skeeter Davis and NRBQ.  —Tony Peters