If listening to some artists' music can feel like work, the collected output of Terry Anderson and the Olympic Ass Kickin Team—a blend of pig-picking goodtimes pop (NRBBQ?) and huge-speaker bar-band rock—is pure play. Anderson has been at it for more than 30 years, and his tunes have stocked the shelves of the Fabulous Knobs, the Woods, the Yayhoos and various other Dan Baird enterprises. A quick trip through a cross-section of those recordings should inspire an image of Anderson, kneeling before a Mount Rushmore of, from left to right, Chuck Berry, Keith Richards, Nick Lowe and Paul Westerberg.
True to form, that foursome is present and accounted for in varying dosages on National Champions, from the Berry-styled raved-up travelogue "Found Missin'" and the slicing Stonesy guitars on "Willie Mays" to the pub-rock jangle of "About You" and the Replacements-as-power-poppers rush of "Is We or Ain't We."
Thematically, the two biggest wildcards are "Willie Mays" and "Pow'ful 'Merka." The former is a grilling of the title hero's godson, Barry Bonds, and possibly Anderson's most hook-crammed creation yet. That's saying something for a guy with "Boyfriend 2" in his past. When he sings of home run 756 being for "needle pricks," it's the rarely attempted triple entendre. Gotta swing for the fences sometimes, right BB? The latter, a character study presented in knowingly bombastic glory, plays out like the soundtrack to the book Deer Hunting with Jesus. Anderson's biggest statement? He doesn't make statements. He just observes.
Elsewhere, Anderson pretty much sticks to his songwriting sweet spots: sex (filed under not enough, too much and make-up), women and sexy women. He covers at least two of those three on "Wrong for That," a cut that's actually the record's biggest musical departure. A true soul song (more Philly and Chicago than Muscle Shoals, though), "Wrong for That" boasts a solo that wandered blissfully off a Chi-Lites record and a recitation that's equal parts ABC After-School Special and Joe Tex. The number flirts with parody, but Anderson and the OAK Team make it work. That is, they make it feel like play.
Terry Anderson releases National Champions Friday, March 13, at The Pour House. Tickets are $7, and the music starts at 10 p.m. Chip Robinson & the Heavy Beat Outfit open.