Those with long memories may recall two excellent albums, released in 1993 and 1996 respectively, Sweet Relief – A Benefit For Victoria Williams and Sweet Relief II – Gravity Of the Situation. The purpose of these albums was to raise funds for the charity organisation, Sweet Relief, who offered assistance to musicians in the US who were struggling to make ends meet while facing illness, disability, or age-related problems. The charity was set up by Victoria Williams after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and the first album was a collection of her songs recorded by a fantastic line up of artists (ranging from Lou Reed to The Jayhawks to Pearl Jam) with all proceeds going to the charity. The follow-up centred on the late Vic Chesnutt and again had quite a spectacular queue of acts lining up to contribute (including REM, Cracker and even Madonna).
Party For Joey follows that template. Joey is Joey Spampinato, bass player and founding member of the legendary NRBQ who is currently recuperating from cancer treatment. For those not in the know, NRBQ (or The New Rhythm & Blues Quartet) were an incredibly tight and hugely engaging bunch who, from 1969, drew on R’n’B, rockabilly, powerpop and jazz amongst a host of other influences, earning them the unofficial title of “The best bar band in the world.” Their famous fans are legion but unfortunately the paying public didn’t seem to catch on and the band never made it into the big league. And while Terry Adams, on keyboards, is considered by most to be the quintessential pivot point of NRBQ, Spampinato was no slouch in the song writing stakes while his bass playing remains much admired.
Party For Joey, for anyone not familiar with NRBQ, is simply a terrific album, chock-full of great songs delivered by another excellent line up including Los Lobos, The Minus 5, Robbie Fulks, Peter Case, Bonnie Raitt, Steve Forbert and Buddy Miller with Jim Lauderdale. For those familiar with the band, it’s quite fascinating to hear these new takes on a bunch of old favourites. Several of the songs adapt the “NRBQ” sound – piano led boogie with whip smart taut guitar and oh so tight rhythm section – with ex member, Al Anderson, leading the charge on an electrifying take of You Can’t Hide. Bonnie Raitt (recording with a current NRBQ line up) revisits her earlier cover of the song Green Lights while Deer Tick offer an uncanny approximation of the dizzy rhythms utilised in That I Get Home (from 1980’s album, Tiddlywinks). Peter Case meanwhile, shuffles in with a groovelicious rendition of Don’t Knock Off my Door, just after a mini supergroup (Ben Harper with Keith Richards, Charlie Musselwhite, Benmont Tench, Don Was and the late Don Heffington) roll on down the line quite wonderfully on a fantastic version of Like A Locomotive, from Wild Weekend, sounding for all their worth as if this was a Taj Mahal song plucked from his Giant Steps album. Los Lobos, a band who are not too dissimilar from NRBQ in their command of R’n’B and slippery rhythms, easily adopt Every Boy Every Girl.
The gifts keep on coming. The Minus 5 (with both Peter Buck and Mike Mills in tow) stomp through Don’t She Look Good with a rockabilly swagger while Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale adopt an Everly Brothers approach to How Will I Know. Kick Me Hard’s Chores is given a hillbilly remake by Robbie Fulks but the most surprising inclusion is the Penn And Teller rendition of Plenty Of Somethin’, a song from 1997’s You’re Nice People So You Are. This pair of magicians somehow seem to capture the unique oddness and oddball humour of NRBQ in this delightful ditty.
Party For Joey is a grand listen and a purchase goes to a good cause. Really, there are no losers here so go ahead and join the party.
Buy Party For Joey here.
I can’t find any online renditions of the songs from the album but here’s Keef warbling on about Joey
For more information about Sweet Relief Musicians Fund visit www.sweetrelief.org