You Gotta Be Loose
Rounder Records, 1998
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/18/1998
For someone who has claimed to have a vast knowledge of music, it may surprise people to hear that I've never been into NRBQ, simply because I haven't heard them that much. (My only exposure to the group was when I was in college radio, and Wild Weekend was their latest release, an album I just didn't care about.)
But for some reason, I felt a desire to find out about this American institution - and it just so happened that our friends at Rounder wrote to tell me about NRBQ's latest release, You Gotta Be Loose. (It also could have been that I feared earning the wrath of Penn Jillette, who wrote in the liner notes, "If you don't like NRBQ, I don't want to be around you." No wonder he never returned my phone calls.)
Admittedly, the band - vocalist/keyboardist Terry Adams, guitarist Johnny Spampinato, bassist Joey Spampinato and drummer Tom Ardolino - are not your typical band. While they are more than capable musicians, their playing embodies a spirit of permanent looseness that makes it almost sound like they're a bar band who made it. But make no mistake, NRBQ is no bar band - you can tell that from the tongue-in-cheek humor of their sometimes undecipherable lyrics - and the different nature of their songs.
If the tight-but-loose attribute of the band doesn't shock you, then what might is that these live cuts sound like they were recorded in small clubs (which, undoubtedly, they were). One would have thought that after such a long time together, NRBQ would have earned the ability to perform in larger arenas. Then again, maybe their style is more tailored to the smaller venues.
From a quick blues shuffle ("I Got A Rocket In My Pocket," "Jump Man Jump") to solid pop rock ("Be Here Now," "Ain't No Free," "The One And Only") to their own unique take on the world around them ("Girl Scout Cookies," "Wacky Tobacky," "Paris"), Adams and crew literally win the listener over before the first song is completed. Even if you don't want to get sucked into the party, you soon find yourself with the lampshade on your head, happily bouncing along to NRBQ.
In a sense, NRBQ reminds me of a modern-day band, The Bottle Rockets, a comparison I make with the utmost respect to both bands. In case you doubt me, check out the country-in-a-washing-machine fury of "Mule In The Corn" off You Gotta Be Loose and a song like "Sunday Sports" off The Bottle Rockets's The Brooklyn Side. Whether they know it or not, NRBQ has influenced more bands than we all will ever know.
Of course, their "hit" - "It's A Wild Weekend" - is here as well, if only to provide some type of an anchor for the uninitiated (like me). Problem is, by the time you get to this track, you feel like you've been listening to the band all your life. If anything, this is a sign of just how good NRBQ really is.
You Gotta Be Loose is a disc that will not only serve as a wonderful introduction to the band, but it will spark an interest in discovering the rest of this group's back catalog. There is no doubt that NRBQ is one of this country's most unheralded musical treasures. One wonders how long this will last after the fever spreads thanks to this album.