NRBQ's "Happy Talk"
When NRBQ played B.B. King’s in June, the venerable band’s leader and founding member Terry Adams said backstage that Omnivore Recordings, which late last year released the five-CD NRBQ High Noon--A 50-Year Retrospective, was open to his suggestion that they put out new NRBQ material, alternated, perhaps, with additional archival releases.
Fast forward to now, when Omnivore has indeed issued a new five-song NRBQ EP, Happy Talk.
“We’ve made EPs before—vinyl ones a while back,” says Adams. “But we felt like it was time now for a nice, short message that’s quicker and cheaper and easier to produce--following what you realize were five discs with 22 songs on each one, with stuff on them that people still haven’t gotten to yet!”
Happy Talk, then, gives NRBQ the means to manifest “what we feel we need to say right now,” adds Adams. The titletrack for the EP—whose physical CD version is beautifully enveloped in a six-panel package—is a cover of the 1949 Rodgers & Hammerstein show tune from South Pacific (sung by the Tony-winning Juanita Hall in the original stage and screen versions of the musical) that according to Adams, has long been in the works.
“It’s a song that I’ve been crazy about even when I was a kid and bought every version I could find—way before I discovered it was from South Pacific,” Adams says of the song, which has in fact been covered by the various likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Doris Day, Nancy Wilson, the Four Freshmen, Harper’s Bizarre, and The Damned’s Captain Sensible, who had a chart-topping U.K. hit with it in 1982.
“I’ve always wanted to record it,” Adams continues,” but to get it right you must realize that it’s in its own place that’s entirely separate from any song ever written.”
Hence, he’s “messed with it” with live versions over the years, and came up with a jazz arrangement for it after releasing his 1995 solo album Terrible.
“It took more time in production for the version on the EP, but [NRBQ guitarist] Scott Ligon is the perfect singer for it—and it’s not an easy song to sing.”
Besides “Happy Talk,” NRBQ also covered “Blues, Blues, Blues” by legendary Chicago blues saxophonist Abb Locke—whom Ligon used to play with—and Roy Orbison’s classic hit “Only the Lonely.”
“Once in a while we have talks about songs like ‘Only the Lonely’--how it might sound if done differently,” says Adams. “Like some years ago we did ‘Be My Love’ by Mario Lanza as a country tune, or ‘Indian Love Call’ by Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald [on Adams’ 2009 solo album Holy Tweet]. I don’t know why these tunes come back to me after all these years, but sometimes songs you might think were corny when you were a teen later make sense.”
In the case of the straight-ahead country take on “Only the Lonely,” Adams wondered how the song would work “without all the drama [of the Orbison single’s production].”
“We did the first take live and spontaneous, and actually never dreamed to put it out except that Scott sang it so beautifully, right there on the spot,” says Adams.
As for the two originals, lead track “Head on a Post” was inspired by an episode of The Rockford Files, Adams says. “Yes, I Have a Banana,” as the title suggests, is an “answer song” to the novelty song hit of 1923, “Yes! We Have No Bananas”—which also inspired a 1923 follow-up “I’ve Got the Yes! We Have No Bananas Blues.”
“In our song, pretty much all the guy has is a banana!” says Adams. “It took all of us to write it—but it was 60 years in the making!”
Happy Talk’s release has been met with joy from ‘Q fans, as well as a reviewer at The Aquarian Weekly who wrote, “There’s hope for the country as long as NRBQ is still with us.”
“I hope the time has not come where people’s attention span for music is limited,” says Adams, acknowledging that “to get people to sit down and actually listen to a new album might not be as easy as it once was. So for now, this EP is what we did and we’re happy about it. Almost all the music is instant, simple and straight to the point.”