NINE BELOW ZERO – Don’t Point Your Finger

A&M 1981 / Universal 2014

Finest rhythm-and-blues purveyors’ first studio foray that can’t betray their age.

NINE BELOW ZERO - Don't Point Your Finger

Don’t Point Your Finger

Given that this band are still going strong, 35 years after their inception, it’s easy to see NBZ as elder statesmen, despite the youthful energy oozing out of their latest album, 2009’s "It’s Never Too Late", and forget that the group were in their early twenties when they first burst on the scene. Cut from the same cloth as DR. FEELGOOD, they came into play in the dry atmosphere of post-punk and moisturized it with the brilliant "Live At The Marquee" – a gambit which seemed difficult to follow in a studio. But producer Glyn Johns knew too well how to harness such a raw vim hardened by the ensemble’s vast concert experience, to be enriched yet by tours with THE WHO and THE KINKS who were impressed with “Don’t Point Your Finger” – and not for nothing, as the quartet harked back to where their heroes had come from.

Sounding like THE YARDBIRDS refracted via punk, here the ensemble hurl the hooks of “Immigrant Song” and “You Really Got Me” – in, correspondingly, rambunctious title piece and the punchy, catchy cover of Roy Head’s “Treat Her Right” – into their Delta source rather than the Thames estuary, while the opening choogle of “One Way Street” provides a fertile soil for long on-stage improvisation. It sets the template for the fiery interplay of Dennis Greaves’ guitar and Mark Feltham’s harp and their mutually supportive voices that shine on both like the delicately-driven country-tinged single “Helen” and Chuck Berry-indebted rockers such as “Doghouse” where a ringing picking put Stix Burkey’s drums and Peter Clark’s bass in sharp focus. More so, NBZ’s early tracks betray their love for the girl-group sound, although the band’s ground is equally firm in the bluesy “Ain’t Comin’ Back” with its six-string scratch-and-slide and the deliciously frenzied “Three Times Enough.”

There’s a whole emotional gamut in the group’s inspired reading of “Sugar Mama” making obvious why, a while later, Rory Gallagher called on Feltham’s services – note also the Irish reel which his harmonica delivers at the start of “Ridin’ On The L&N” as documented on the bonus disc with a concert taped for BBC soon after the album was out and drastically different from the band’s debut – and a lot of cheek in “Rockin’ Robin” that takes Michael Jackson’s sweetness out of Bobby Day’s original without eating at the song’s crowd-teasing exuberance. As the dynamics-pushing and tension-building chug of “You Can’t Please All The People All The Time” shows in a slightly awkward way, NBZ never strove for mass appeal, but they had, and still have, it in spades. So if you’re going to point your finger, let it be to direct somebody to their nearest gig.


April 7, 2014

Category(s): Reissues
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