True North 2021
Subtitled “A Sweet Relief Tribute to Joey Spampinato” and featuring rock and pop elite, a Rolling Stone included, irresistible array of covers highlights the writing talent of NRBQ founder.
To state that Joey Spampinato always was a musician’s musician would be an underestimation because, both as part of a classic American ensemble and a sideman to many a star, the veteran made the rumble of his bass heard all over the world to resonate with multitude of hearts – and the infectiousness of his songs resulted in NRBQ’s appearances on “The Simpsons” where they served as an animated house band. A few of those songs found their way here, on an album paying homage to Spampinato and raising funds to support Joey during his recently revealed illness, and these versions of familiar tunes are so infectious one will wonder why such powerful cuts remained unreleased until now. “Party” a friends-and-family affair, so the amount of warmth emanating from the record shouldn’t surprise anyone, yet the number of smiles it produces time after time is genuinely astonishing.
The album is poignantly bookended by a couple of Spampinato’s oldest and newest pieces – his erstwhile colleague Al Anderson opening proceedings with the high-octane take on “You Can’t Hide” from NRBQ’s 1969 debut and wife Kami Lyle joining Joey on the acoustic ballad “First Crush” to deliver a fragile finale and leave the listener in tears – whereas his former group and Bonnie Raitt team up for the punchy “Green Lights” which adds a slider’s roll to original rock. Still, it’s Ben Harper’s twangy reading of “Like A Locomotive” that’s bound to get focused on thanks to the easily recognizable presence of Keith Richards, Charlie Musselwhite and Benmont Tench, although Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale give “How Will I Know” from THE SPAMPINATO BROTHERS’ repertoire just as much momentum – and a countryfied air.
And if LOS LOBOS’ turn “Every Boy, Every Girl” into a zydeco dance, SHE & HIM slow “How Can I Make You Love Me” down to an innocent reverie, before Peter Buck’s THE MINUS 5 tear up Zooey Deschanel’s vocal gauze staging the scintillating swagger of “Don’t She Look Good” instead. At the opposite end of emotional spectrum, Steve Forbert softens “Beverly” to an ethereal shimmer while THE NILS call on Chris Spedding to serve a raucous cover of “That’s Alright” only for Penn And Teller to reshape “Plenty Of Somethin'” as a vaudevillian performance, stressing the potential stylistic variety of Spampinato’s compositions. There is indeed plenty of something on this album, so throw a party for Joey and help the master carry on playing the game of life.