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CD REVIEW -- Rick Estrin & The Nightcats
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Rick Estrin & the Nightcats


Groovin' In Greaseland


Alligator Records


13 tracks/54:39

Rick Estrin & The Nightcats CD art


By Mark Thompson


          It is always great to get a new Rick Estrin & the Nightcats release. After nine Alligator albums with his former partner, guitarist Little Charlie Baty, and three as the frontman for the Nightcats, the only question is whether or not Estrin can once again come up with a noteworthy batch of original material. A quick listen reveals that, once again, the songwriter has come through with a winning hand.


          Estrin has a unique but always oh-so-cool vocal style that is one of the factors that gives the band their distinctive sound. Instrumentally, Estrin on harp and Kid Andersen on guitar are respectively among the best players around. Lorenzo Farrell has traded in his bass for a bevy of keyboards, so guests Jerry Jemmott, Joe Kyle Jr., Robby Yamilov all contribute on the bottom end, with Andersen taking over on three tracks. The release is the first featuring new drummer Alex Pettersen, a Norwegian import who has worked with the Billy T Band and Vidar Busk.


          Recorded at Andersen's famous Greaseland Studio with Estrin and the transplanted Norwegian producing, the disc has a clean, tight sound and the band is firing on all cylinders. Blasts from Estrin's chromatic harp get things started on the opener, “The Blues Ain't Going Nowhere,” a robust shuffle that makes it clear that people are still suffering from hard times. “Looking For A Woman” rides a slinky rhythm as Estrin declares he is back in circulation, ready to move on from a bad relationship. The leader's sly, humorous lyrics make “Dissed Again” a sure-fire favorite, with lines like, “get there just in time to hear the boss man say, you got to open for a ten-year-old, sounds just like Stevie Ray!” Estrin blows some mighty fine harp, matched by Andersen's twisting solo. The guitarist is featured on “MWAH,” a blazing tribute to the late Lonnie Mack that perfectly captures his sound, with noteworthy solo breaks from guest Nancy Wright on tenor sax and Farrell on the organ.


          Estrin takes aim at the empty suits who run the business world on “Big Money,” people with big bank accounts and “......lots of class, but it's all low!” Farrell uses a Wurlitzer and Jim Pugh joins in on an electric piano to give the track a carnival-like feel. It also features Terry Hanck and John Halbleib on horns and Martin Windstad on percussion. “Hot In Here” is a jumping cut that gives all the band members a moment in the spotlight. Farrell is featured on organ on his instrumental tune, “Cool Slaw,” the organ riding a mid-tempo groove. Estrin joins in, blowing some exquisite harp acoustically. “I Ain't All That” takes things back to the classic sounds of the Chicago tradition, the days when blues hit the big town.


          “Hands Of Time,” co-written by Estrin and Andersen, is a familiar tune with the singer promising a woman that he will patiently wait for her day of reckoning. Another highlight is listening to all of the killer guitar fills Andersen plays throughout the track. The band creates a dark, moody landscape with Estrin delivering a down-trodden tale on “Tender Hearted.” On “Another Lonesome Day,” his immaculate harp phrasing and Andersen's measured guitar playing add extra layers of heartache and pain to this minor key weeper. Both players know how to say more with the notes they leave out than many lesser musicians might convey with frantic, lengthy solos. The disc ends with “So Long,” an instrumental tribute to long-time Nightcats bass player Jay Peterson, who passed away earlier this year. Estrin pulls a wide range of tones from his harp on the reverent eulogy, reminding us once again that he is one of the finest harmonica players on the planet.


          Make no mistake – this one comes highly recommended, with a combination of striking musicianship mixed with thoughtful, and at times humorous, songwriting that has always defined this stellar band.


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