Review: NRBQ’s Delightful ‘Tiddly Winks’ Sounds as Fresh Today As In 1980

Tiddly Winks
4 out of 5 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

The often termed “definitive” lineup of NRBQ- Terry Adams, Joey Spampinato, Al Anderson, and Tom Ardolino—strikes again.  This configuration began a run of classic studio recordings with All Hopped Up in 1977, continued with At Yankee Stadium in ’78 and the next year’s Kick Me Hard, then kept the momentum going on Tiddly Winks, released in 1980. They weren’t through with that burst of inspired energy capturing an unlikely and indescribable mix of rockabilly, country, blues, pop, and jazz as this album found them hitting a creative peak. Or one of them.

It leans a little heavily towards hooky, at times bubble gum inspired pop, especially on Anderson’s contributions, the blithe opener “Feel You Around Me,” and the sweet, if overly sugary, “Never Take the Place of You.” Terry Adams gets lightweight too on his simple sing-along “Definition of Love.” But there is plenty of crackling rocking, particularly on Adams’ cruising, top-down rocker, “Me and the Boys” (the disc’s most recognizable moment, famously covered by Bonnie Raitt), Spampinato’s bubbling “You Can’t Hide” and the finger-popping rockabilly of “That I Get Back Home,” featuring Anderson’s country picking.

Adams pounds the 88s on a rollicking bluesy shuffle as Anderson raises the temperature with a Buddy Guy-styled solo for the smoking “Want You to Feel Good Too” that seems like an old Chess cover but is an original. The oddest inclusion is Adams’ “Roll Call” which sounds like a Billy Joel leftover. There isn’t much jazz here but a cover of the ’30s big band standard “Music Goes Round and Round,” best known through Louis Prima’s bubbly, soulful version and one of the few tracks to feature NRBQ’s two-piece “whole wheat horns,” is a highlight. The wordless yet non-instrumental “Hobbies” is a charming, frisky Adams melody that seems like an outtake from the Ramsey Lewis trio.  

Omnivore added two tunes (both available on the Tapdancin’ Bats anthology, so they aren’t rare) recorded during the sessions. A few very odd commercials for the album, which feature longtime NRBQ cohort wrestler Captain Lou Albano shouting for a minute, are not something most will care to hear twice.     

Kudos to the label for resurrecting and remastering these terrific if somewhat under-the-radar albums, adding extra tracks, new liner notes, and classy packaging. The sound is crisp and the committed, performances are proof of NRBQ’s legacy.

Regardless of how tough a day you’ve had, listening to the wonderful Tiddly Winks will make you break out with a goofy smile. That’s a testament to the band’s spirited talents and ageless musicianship.

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