Review: NRBQ Co-Founder’s Tribute Raises Funds For Joey Spampinato

Various Artists
Party for Joey-A Sweet Relief Tribute to Joey Spampinato
(True North/Sweet Relief)
4 out of 5 stars

You may not recognize his name, but it’s important to understand that when Keith Richards needed a bassist for Chuck Berry’s filmed 60th birthday concert, he had a choice of every accomplished bass player in the world. That he chose Joey Spampinato tells you about the impression his talents made on Richards.  

As bassist/singer/songwriter and co-founder of the long running NRBQ, Spampinato played a crucial role in some of music’s most joyful and creative moments.

His tenure stretched from the 1969 debut through 2004, when the original group dissolved (they later reformed without him). He was a key ingredient in the outfit’s mojo that mixed jazz, rockabilly, pop, country and rock with the catchy melodies that made NRBQ such a cult phenomenon. Sadly, his career was cut short with a 2015 cancer diagnosis, which he is still treating. This fundraising tribute, spearheaded by the Sweet Relief Foundation, features Spampinato’s musical friends, peers and fans covering his songs.

Like his music, this is an eclectic bunch that runs from indie rockers Deer Tick to established pros like Los Lobos and Peter Case with a stop at an oddity from Penn and Teller. There are 13 Spampinato penned or co-written tunes, with a closing entry from the man himself and his current wife, Kami Lyle, on the sweet, jazz influenced folk tune “First Crush,” a new composition featuring Lyle’s trumpet.

Old band mate Al Anderson starts things off with “You Can’t Hide,” a rollicking rockabilly kicker that could be an old Rockpile single. That style is the blueprint for many of these selections, especially Los Lobos’ foot tapping “Every Boy Every Girl,” The Minus 5’s “Don’t She Look Good” and Case’s “Don’t Knock on My Door.” Bonnie Raitt who once used “Green Lights” as the title track to her 1982 album, returns to the song, this time with the current lineup of NRBQ backing her on a particularly spirited take.

Old pal Keith Richards, partnering with Ben Harper, provides the album’s biggest dose of star power on the chugging “Like a Locomotive” and Steve Forbert digs into the bittersweet love song “Beverly,” one of the few ballads. Robbie Fulks brings the twang and humorous country charm to “Chores.” Perhaps they could have replaced Penn and Teller’s jokey “Plenty of Somethin’” with a more substantial entry, but it displays how diverse Spampinato’s friends are.

Credits explain who plays what, but not which album the original is from, anything about the song or why each act chose it. That’s a major omission for a project such as this.

It’s likely most won’t know the majority of this material since many were deep tracks on NRBQ albums that never sold well. But all involved deliver performances with an obvious affection for the songs, Spampinato’s charming vocals and lyrical turns of phrase. If the project sends fans of some of the participants back to the originals, raises Spampinato’s profile and creates much needed cash for its subject, it has effectively accomplished its task.

Photo courtesy Mark Pucci Media

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