Dummy – NRBQ
NRBQ: the first jamband? Probably not, but they merit a place on the list. Granted, they don't jam often — in fact, they seldom even solo or offer a track longer than four minutes, but if you expect all jambands to jam, you probably also think all metal is metallic and all prog-rock progresses. Like many folks celebrated on this site, NRBQ know their instruments and have some solid notions of how to give a rock club crowd a good time, and they display a tad more concern about musical intelligence than verbal matters. There's a much straighter line between this stuff and "Golgi Apparatus" than between that Phish number and any Grateful Dead song.
Dummy shows NRBQ rolling along as happily as ever, but a startling entry in their discography it’s not. These 13 tunes are clever, driving, and undeniably catchy: once you’ve listened a couple times, give any song a nudge and it’ll cycle around your head for ages. There’s usually a "but" for a band that stays cult for so long, though, and that applies here. "Call of the Wild," for instance, sounds like Brian Wilson with the Police as his rhythm section: quite appealing, if you can overlook the fact that the vocals and "modern" keyboards are about as awkward as any recent Brian outing.
So it goes. Throughout, it's jazz-inflected garage-rock musicianship and adept pop songcraft versus thin vocals and nerdy humor. On the best cuts, such as "Imaginary Radio" (Sam the Sham sings Tony Bennett), NRBQ's virtues win easily. In the lesser moments, the band preaches to the converted.
If the entire disc proceeded along the lines of the title opener and the closing "Misguided Missiles," Dummy would work well as a shoutalong for those disenfranchised by the results of the recent election. Instead, though, the set wanders, tossing bossa nova ("All That's Left to Say is Goodbye") and would-be novelties ("Hey Punkin' Head") into the mix along with whatever else happened to be around. As well, "Misguided Missiles" turns out to be a 1991 leftover, demonstrating the cyclical nature of political protests, but also reaffirming the thrown-together nature of this CD.
Another factor which bonds NRBQ to the jamband camp: like even the kingpins of the genre, NRBQ have an easier time getting their points across in the multi-hour format of a live appearance than in the 40-minute framework of an album. This CD hints that they haven't lost their agility, but the place to look for prime NRBQ remains the clubs rather than the record stores.