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Ken Maiuri’s Clubland: NRBQ has new album; XTC tribute show at Iron Horse in Northampton



Laste modified: Thursday, July 24, 2014
“Do you feel it?” “Ain’t it all right?” “That’s neat, that’s nice.” “Keep this love goin’.” “I feel so good and I want you to feel good, too.”

It’s been a running theme through the long lifetime of NRBQ, for more than 45 years, no matter what the group lineup has been: the rhythm and how it makes you want to move.

The band’s first single in 1969 was a speedy and rambunctious cover of Eddie Cochran’s “C’mon Everybody;” it’s a wild three-minute ride whose power hasn’t diminished one bit. (To hear the song, visit this story at gazettenet.com.)

No matter what else pianist/leader Terry Adams might choose to sing about — the awesomeness of Howard Johnson’s restaurants, RC colas and moon pies, girl scout cookies, wanting his mommy — the groove is always there.

And it’s still strong on NRBQ’s brand-new album, “Brass Tacks.” The lineup has shifted again, with bassist Pete Donnelly replaced by Casey McDonough. Some longtime fans frowned and jumped off the train when Adams started making new records with new guys under the old name in 2011, but it seems strange to complain when the recent albums have had way more melodic spark, warmth and flat-out joy than what the post-Al Anderson lineup was making from 1999-2004.

The album art is black and white but when Scott Ligon’s catchy opening track “Waitin’ On My Sweetie Pie” kicks in, it’s bright yellow sunshine. A mix of New Orleans and Caribbean rhythms, it’s a song that could have been written in the ’50s, but vibrant production ideas — shakers, multiple piano and guitar textures and extra drums on the fun shout-along chorus (“oh-WEY-oh-oh!”) — make it sound like an animated party in IMAX 3D.

Ligon’s voice and way with melodies feels like a cross between former members Al Anderson and Joey Spampinato, and his lovely “It’ll Be Alright” has a simple sparkle reminiscent of the great stripped-down Lindsey Buckingham songs from Fleetwood Mac’s heyday.

Newest member McDonough supplies one of the album’s highlights, “Can’t Wait To Kiss You,” a song that skips along so sweetly you can almost hear the harmonizing vocalists smiling. If the late-’60s had a country bubblegum smash to go along with “Yummy Yummy Yummy” and “Chewy Chewy,” this song could have been it. It’s such a sugary pop song, you’d need to do some cavity repair if it was longer than 1:49, yet when the bite-size candy treat is over, it makes you want to grab another one out of the bowl.

It’s still Adams’ band, and his spirit infuses everything, like the loose and drumless closing song, “Love This Love We Got,” which features funky and Monk-y double-tracked piano and all three vocalists taking turns at the microphone and harmonizing at the end.

“Greetings from Delaware” is Adams’ angular and peppy ode to the “plastic cash” of credit cards. “The UPS man is my best friend,” he sings, and the debt piles up as the song goes on, ending with an out-of-nowhere coda as more credit card offers appear in the mail. “We’re sending you greetings from Delaware,” the envelopes sing with cartoonish glee and a tempting tropical sway.

“This Flat Tire” — the tale of an in-need-of-repair car, or maybe a political statement about stubborn elected officials — is a huffing and puffing one-chord boogie that opens up into another dimension on the chorus, thanks to Adams’ never-better knack for switching gears into unexpected chords or emotions.

And the evocative centerpiece is “Places Far Away,” which Adams is said to have written at age 15. It’s a drift through the universe, a loping swing à la Sun Ra, with jabbing piano, Adams’ loveliest vocal in years and some traces of exotica swirling around in the mix. It’s mysterious and hypnotic, and even breathtakingly beautiful when a backing vocal sneaks in from a distant space in the headphones at song’s end.

“Brass Tacks” is now available at www.nrbq.com and the band will play the Summer Brew Fest at the Three County Fair in Northampton on June 14.

XTC tribute show, finally

The brilliant new-wave-and-beyond band XTC (“Senses Working Overtime,” “Making Plans for Nigel,” “Dear God,” “Mayor Of Simpleton”) never had it easy — manager problems, record company problems, bad contracts, bandleader Andy Partridge’s debilitating stage fright (which made the band stop touring forever, right at the height of its popularity) — and the local XTC Tribute Show followed in kind.

It was first planned for last January, but got postponed when a highly contagious flu, severe colds and other mysterious ailments sidelined most of the participants a couple days before the event.

Now those same folks are likely crossing their fingers when they’re not getting them twisted into knots on fretboards trying to learn the quirky and complex XTC tunes — the tribute show is finally happening, and it’s a benefit for H.E.A.R. (Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers), since XTC was once known as one of the loudest live bands in the world, and Partridge has been dealing with severe tinnitus ever since a recording studio mishap in the late-’90s.

XTC’s biggest Valley musician fans — Philip Price (Winterpills), Ray Mason, Rick Murnane, Luke Cavagnac (The Claudia Malibu), Colorway, Sitting Next to Brian, Jack and David and Julian Simons, Mystics Anonymous, ALOTTLE, Steve Koziol and others — will put their own inspired spin on XTC’s agitated amphetamine rock (the live era, 1977-’82), its more pastoral, orchestral pop (the post-stage-fright age, 1983-2000) and the clever tunes that Partridge and the gang released as their retro psychedelic alter-ego band, The Dukes of Stratosphear. The sound of drums and wires takes over the Iron Horse in Northampton Saturday at 10 p.m.

Ken Maiuri can be reached at clublandcolumn@gmail.com.