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CD Review --- Rick Estrin & The Nightcats



Alligator Records

 Rick Estrin & Nightcats CD

By Mike O’Cull

                Rick Estrin is best known and loved as the frontman for Little Charlie & the Nightcats, a gig he held for 30 years. The band became one of America’s premier blues and jump outfits with a winning combination of blues, swing, and 1950’s-style rock and roll powered by the almighty guitar of Little Charlie Baty and Estrin’s excellent harp playing, witty lyrics, and hipster attitude. In recent years, Little Charlie has retired from life on the road to explore other pursuits and Estrin has stepped even farther out front than he has been in the past. The group is now Rick Estrin and the Nightcats and they seem to be picking up where the old band left off with their first Alligator Records release, Twisted. The disc is a fine showing for Estrin and his crew, slightly different than the old days, but still retaining the flavor and vibe that has made him a household word in the blues community.

                The most noteable change to the band in the new Estrin era is the man standing where Little Charlie once stood, Norwegian import Chris “Kid” Andersen. Not only is Andersen the guitarist on board, he also co-produced the album with Estrin and does an excellent job in both respects. While trying to replace Little Charlie is sort of like trying to replace Michael Jordan, Andersen is a fine player in his own right and, while not as overtly jazz-influenced as Little Charlie could sometimes be, he is a great choice for this gig and really makes it his own.

                Like any record involving Rick Estrin, the real stars of the show are Estrin’s original songs and lyrics. Estrin has always been one the most unique and prolific songwriters working in American roots music and he does not disappoint here. This is the ability that has always put Estrin head and shoulders above most modern blues artists and it really is the best thing that he does. Whether writing on his own or co-writing with Kid Andersen and the rest of the band, Estrin can stick a tune in a listener’s ear and make it stay there as well as anyone who has ever written a blues song. Tunes like “Big Time”, “A Ton Of Money”, and “Back From The Dead” show that Estrin is more than a harp player and a barroom smack-talker. Estrin is an idea man, the very kind that the blues scene could use more of.  He takes the three chords we all know and love and somehow makes them sound fresh and new, one more time, and makes us all want join the party.  It is great to see him carrying on after Little Charlie’s departure and to do it in this fine a style should make blues fans hopeful that Estrin might just have a few more albums and a whole new career still left in him.


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