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