Happy Talk

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Some might wonder why, in the three years after 2014's Brass Tacks, NRBQ have opted to release a 17-minute EP rather than a full-length album, especially when it only features two original tunes alongside three covers. But if 2017's Happy Talk is a small dose of the Q, it's also solid and satisfying, and shows the group's core strengths are in great shape. Terry Adams' keyboards have as distinctive a personality as anyone in American music, and his tuneful sense of joy is as fresh on these songs as it was in the '70s and '80s. Guitarist Scott Ligon and bassist Casey McDonough fit their spaces in the NRBQ formula with ease and élan, helping Adams carry this band's trademark gumbo of American musical influences, from piano jazz to dirt-simple rock & roll with any number of stops in between. And drummer John Perrin maintains a comfortable behind-the-beat snap that suits this band all but perfectly. "Head on a Post" is a jaunty, blues-informed rocker that harks back to NRBQ's classic era, while "Yes, I Have a Banana" is a witty exercise in cheerful absurdity. The two-minute cover of "Only the Lonely" is fine if not remarkable, but things get swinging on "Blues Blues Blues," which starts as a classic 12-bar exercise and then heads out into unchartered territory. And the closing cover of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Happy Talk" is at once reverent and fresh, honoring the melody while discovering hidden nuances in the lyrics. As with nearly everything they've released, Happy Talk is a record that no one but NRBQ could have made; they still have a sound and a collective mindset that sets them apart from their peers, and after a half century they still make magic. And 17 minutes of music like this is plenty to be grateful for.

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