On his few excursions outside of the confines of NRBQ, the band's co-founder and keyboardist has tended to emphasize his more eclectic, unconventional side (with Terry Adams, that may just be the only side there is, but that's another story). Rhythm Spell is the first time he's used the solo pulpit to do what he normally does with the Q: although his Sun Ra-esque avant-garde tendencies are never too far away, Adams is rockin' and rollin' on this one, and in the process he's made the best NRBQ album that the Q never made. One other mainstay of the band is on board, 30-plus-year drummer Tom Ardolino. The other most notable musician on the set is the bassist T-Bone Wolk, a veteran of many a session. Joey Interlande handles acoustic guitar, Charlie Schneeweis the trombone, Jeff Benko guitar, and Jake Jacobs background vocals. All the rest is Adams, who wrote and sings everything here, and plays his trusty clavinet in multiple ways -- how does he do it, folks? -- throughout. The songs are keepers, too, some of the best he's written in years. The opener, "Howard Hughes," has less to do with the reclusive rich man than it does with giving Adams a chance to ask "Howard Hughes? Larry Fine, thank you." (Get it? Three Stooges fans will.). An uptempo, quasi-rockabilly basher not unlike a few dozen classic Q tunes, it's spoken-sung by Adams as he slaps his clavinet silly. Moe and company turn up later on in "A Girl Who Loves the Stooges," too. What, you thought he meant Iggy? "I know, in this world, there's a girl, a pretty girl, who loves the Stooges," sings Adams in his goofy way. "How come Shirley don't dig Curly? I'd ask her to marry if she just dug Larry." Sharp, single-note guitar bursts cut into Adams' lovelorn lament, as a tom-tom pounds out a clip-clop rhythm. "Forget that blush and all them rouges, come with me and watch the Stooges." How could anyone not love this guy?
Other tracks, such as "Every Thing I Do" and "One Shoe," with its funereal, old-time jazz horns and wacky keyboard sounds, take on a lush melodicism not unlike the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds and SMiLE-era sound pastiches, though whether Adams, who has always displayed a love of textured pop, was thinking along those lines is anyone's guess. "Outta Here," with its edgy, jazzy keyboard lines, hipster vocal, and funky trombone, is the requisite spacy album-closer, but unlike previous Adams solo work, it's not the norm here. The uptempo, bluesy "Nature's Gonna Pay You Back" is a serious eco-sanity plea, while "Umbrella," which is, yes, about the pitfalls of trying to use an umbrella, is a beautifully harmonic doo wop that straddles a line between Dion & the Belmonts and Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers. "1400 Miles" echoes the Lovin' Spoonful, and tunes like "Never Before, Never Again," "'Til It's Over," and the title track would make perfect additions to the Q's bottomless stage repertoire, once bassist Joey Spampinato and his guitarist brother, Johnny Spampinato, were able to inject their thoughts into it. Adams' penchant for novelty is present in "What a Mess" and "Give Pancho a Little Kiss," with its south-of-the-border reverbed vocal and Hammond organ-style soulful keys. Adams is nothing less than one of the most underrated musicians in the history of rock, and with Rhythm Spell he's finally made an album outside of the mother band that shows off why he and his band still draw a faithful crowd even though the charts and radio have never been kind to them.