Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Carl Perkins and NRBQ [extended]

  • NRBQ [Columbia, 1969] A-
  • Boppin' the Blues [Columbia, 1969] B-
  • Original Golden Hits [Sun, 1969]
  • Carl Perkins and NRBQ [Columbia, 1970] B
  • Scraps [Kama Sutra, 1972] B
  • Workshop [Kama Sutra, 1973] B
  • All Hopped Up [Red Rooster, 1977] B
  • Ol' Blue Suede's Back [Jet, 1978] C+
  • At Yankee Stadium [Mercury, 1978] B+
  • Kick Me Hard [Rounder/Red Rooster, 1979] B+
  • The Survivors [Columbia, 1982] B-
  • Grooves in Orbit [Bearsville, 1983] B
  • Tapdancin' Bats [Rounder/Red Rooster, 1983] A-
  • Original Sun Greatest Hits [Rhino, 1986]
  • The Million Dollar Quartet [S, 1987] B+
  • God Bless Us All [Rounder, 1987] B
  • Wild Weekend [Virgin, 1989] B-
  • Peek-a-Boo: The Best of NRBQ 1969-1989 Disc One [Rhino, 1990] Neither
  • Peek-a-Boo: The Best of NRBQ 1969-1989 Disc Two [Rhino, 1990] Neither
  • The Very Best of Carl Perkins: Blue Suede Shoes [Collectables, 1998] A

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

NRBQ: NRBQ [Columbia, 1969]
Ever since Mike Jahn called this group the best since the Beatles (something like that) it has been the victim of terrible anti-hype. Four or five of the cuts on this album are really compelling, and while the rest is marred by a kind of cute funkiness, it is original and grows on you. Dig their version of Sun Ra's "Rocket Number 9." A-

Boppin' the Blues [Columbia, 1969]
Sorry, folks, Carl just can't wear them shoes no more; he is an aging country singer and he sounds it. As for NRBQ, they were better first time around. Competent and utterly unexciting, except for the cover, which should win an award. B-

Carl Perkins: Original Golden Hits [Sun, 1969]
[CG70s: A Basic Record Library]

Carl Perkins and NRBQ [Columbia, 1970]
This is uniformly pleasant, but Carl can't wear those shoes no more--he's an aging country singer who sounds it. And since he wrote about half of these tunes as well as singing half of them, we might mention that for the most part he's a competent and utterly unexciting composer. As for NRBQ, their jumpy version of that blues-bopping beat merges all too well with the novelty-music aspect of rockabilly--at times this sounds an itty bit cute. Cute and I like them: Terry Adams's hippie pastorale, "On the Farm," and a Perkins guitar showpiece called "Just Coastin'." B

NRBQ: Scraps [Kama Sutra, 1972]
I've never quite gotten with the abbreviation. New doesn't mean cute, or fancy, or at least it shouldn't, and rhythm-and-blues doesn't mean this. I don't understand why they turned the Q into Quintet by adding singer Frank Gadler, either--all he's ever added is more cuteness, even doing a John Sebastian on one cut. They're tuneful as hell, but so arch--"Who Put the Garlic in the Glue?" indeed--that the only tune I can bear to contemplate is "Magnet." Which attracts me like one. See, they've got me doing it. Yuk. B

NRBQ: Workshop [Kama Sutra, 1973]
This band continues to live up to its full name (now Quartet rather than Quintet again), suggesting a cross between a chamber group (virtuosity and rhythmic decorum) and the New Lost City Ramblers (intelligent folkiness). Terry Adams plays rock and roll like a man who knows jazz wasn't invented by Chick Corea, and I do enjoy their sense of humor--the organ pumping into "C'Mon if You're Coming," or the out-of-synch, out-of-timbre Adams blues piano that undercuts "Blues Stay Away From Me." But I get no sense of why they engage in this musicianly reconstruction of r&b tradition; the jokes, none of which would make Carson, are what there is of a point. And if I'm going to listen to rock and roll without overdrive I need more reason than that. B

NRBQ: All Hopped Up [Red Rooster, 1977]
OK, how about this? They're a power pop band who are too offhand about the power. A song band, you know? I like the Beatlesish "That's Alright" and the anti-dog "Call Him Off, Roger" and one or two of the covers and maybe (or maybe not) the adorable "Ridin' in My Car." And the piano player--I like the piano player. B

Carl Perkins: Ol' Blue Suede's Back [Jet, 1978]
Perkins was never an Elvis or a Jerry Lee or even a Gene Vincent, and Ricky Nelson, for instance, put more good rock and roll on record. Young Blue Suede's Original Golden Hits is still in catalogue on Sun, and (for completeness freaks) his entire Sun output is available on three Charly imports. Excepting "That's Alright Mama," nothing on this Nashville we-can-too-rock-'n'-roll session conveys the verve and discovery of even his optional '50s stuff. C+

NRBQ: At Yankee Stadium [Mercury, 1978]
Although I give them points for stick-to-it-iveness and good cheer, their records have always struck me as complacent because even the subtlest r&b has a more pronounced backbeat. But on his second try, drummer Tom Ardolino makes a marginal but telling difference--the performance is urgent, intense, up, so that even given their adolescent romantic preoccupations (life on the road, it keeps you young) the songs take on a complex life worthy of their chord changes. And try Terry Adams's Jimi-meets-Thelonious clavinet on "Talk to Me." B+

NRBQ: Kick Me Hard [Rounder/Red Rooster, 1979]
I'm gratified that three out of four successive songs on side two--"Chores," "This Old House," and "Things We Like to Do"--mention problems of home maintenance, albeit invidiously (I put off the vacuuming myself). Makes you think that after ten years they're starting to grow up more than "It Was a Accident" makes you fear. B+

Johnny Cash/Jerry Lee Lewis/Carl Perkins: The Survivors [Columbia, 1982]
Survivors of what, pray tell. Oh--of whom. We get it. We know you all were trying, too--especially Big Jawn, whose concert it was. So we regret to inform you that you sound dissipated anyway, which has an odd effect on the gospel tunes and makes for the most magnificently thrown-away "Whole Lotta Shakin'" of Jerry Lee's intensely nonchalant career. B-

NRBQ: Grooves in Orbit [Bearsville, 1983]
They really are virtuosos of fun, a major accomplishment that makes for minor records. They're so dedicated to the perpetual adolescence of pure (or purist) rock and roll that they imitate youth--Joey Spampimato is the most egregious coy-boy in this band of players first and singers second--rather than redefining youthfulness, a more appropriate task for artists of their advancing years. I know they're only kidding (har har), but at some level these are guys who still believe a real girl (not woman, please) sews your shirt and shines your shoes. B

NRBQ: Tapdancin' Bats [Rounder/Red Rooster, 1983]
Here's the fun record these fabled funsters have had in them for fifteen years. Concentrating on original novelty tunes, all big requests at parties, it neutralizes their fatal cuteness by making a virtue of it, with highlights that include tributes to their manager and their sweeties, a throwaway rockabilly raver, and yuck-it-ups about hard times. Even the three sloppy-cum-experimental chops-and-noodles instrumentals fit in, although I could do without the climactic title number, which seems to feature a saxophone reed. A-

Carl Perkins: Original Sun Greatest Hits [Rhino, 1986]
[CG80: Rock Library: Before 1980]

The Million Dollar Quartet: The Million Dollar Quartet [S, 1987]
This isn't a phonograph album, it's a documentary--audio verité proof that the great rockabillies called black men "colored guys" and each other "boy." Also that they knew and loved all kinds of music, which always bear repeating. But I guess the immemorial working title of this legendary event misled me. Fine as the three voices overheard by the Sun tape recorder were, I keep waiting for Elvis, Carl, and Jerry Lee to coalesce into a group. And spontaneous as the family sing is, I keep waiting for the session. B+

NRBQ: God Bless Us All [Rounder, 1987]
The first live album by the Northeast's finest road band stands a chance of showing the rest of the world what it's been missing. It also runs the risk of revealing how the rest of the world managed to stay away. Face it, fans--expecting the same old unexpected can deaden the synapses too, and 20 years can put the snazziest key changes and time signatures in a rut. One set, no song list, audience all unawares, hot-cha-cha. B

NRBQ: Wild Weekend [Virgin, 1989]
First cute, then peculiar, then annoying, their callow act is turning positively perverse as they twinkle-toe past 40. "Boy's Life" and "Immortal for a While" are only where they state their interest in so many words--everywhere Joey Spampinato's eager eternal-adolescent whine rubs up against Terry Adams's sly grownup changes. They may be smart enough to consider this a creative tension, but it isn't. It's an evasion--a fib as opposed to a lie, kiddies--and it isn't funny anymore. B-

NRBQ: Peek-a-Boo: The Best of NRBQ 1969-1989 Disc One [Rhino, 1990] Neither

NRBQ: Peek-a-Boo: The Best of NRBQ 1969-1989 Disc Two [Rhino, 1990] Neither

Carl Perkins: The Very Best of Carl Perkins: Blue Suede Shoes [Collectables, 1998]
Subtly bopping the essence of blues growl and juke-joint thrust, he was more adult, more regional, and more threatening than the Everlys or Buddy Holly. That's one reason he so quickly became a specialty taste artistically and a Nashville born-againer commercially, beloved by guitar adepts and romanticizers of Dixie-fried fundamentalism but legendary for one definitive song only. The guitar people have a point--while no James Burton, he had more jam than Scotty Moore and would have gotten where he got without Moore or his big boss man. But if that's all there was to him, he'd deserve to be a specialty taste. It's the songwriting that has reach. "Blue Suede Shoes" aside, these ditties seem to be trifles. Say you will when you won't. Put your cat clothes on. Or your pink pedal pushers. So now you try to do it--in 2:46, 2:48, and 2:25 respectively. Fine is the line between a spontaneous throwaway and a miraculous miniature. A