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Rick Estrin & The Nightcats - Twisted

Alligator Records

14 songs; Time 52:03; Suggested

Style: Harmonica Led Electric Blues

Exuding more “Cool” than a Frigidaire, Rick Estrin has to be the hippest white cat on the planet! He is always sharp dressed in a suit styled from the 1940s-50s, combs his hair into a classy pompadour, wears a pencil thin moustache, and talks the lingo and walks the walk - by jingo!

I knew this was going to be a fun CD as soon as it landed in the box on the side of my Blues shack. His award-winning original songs are sly, incisive and often hilariously “Twisted.” And his hipster, street-smart vocals deliver the excitement. Estrin also ranks among the very best harp players in the Blues world today. His puts his own stamp on the reeds while echoing the deep traditions of harmonica masters Sonny Boy Williamson II and Little Walter Jacobs.

“For thirty years, Rick Estrin was the voice and face of one of the country’s best-loved Blues and Jump-blues bands, Little Charlie & The Nightcats. His huge harp sound, streetwise vocals, razor-sharp lyrics and hipster persona were as much the focus of the band as Little Charlie Baty’s hard-swinging guitar. In fact, Rick was so much the central figure of the band, most newcomers assumed that he was “Charlie,’” wrote Bruce Iglauer, president of Alligator.

Now, with Little Charlie’s retirement from touring, Rick is the front man in both name and fact. With support from the Nightcats rhythm section of Lorenzo Farrell (bass) and J. Hansen (drums), and an inventive new young recruit from Norway who is well wood-shedded in American Blues, guitarist Chris “Kid” Andersen, Rick continues the “Little Charlie” style on some songs while also taking the band in some fresh directions, but always staying in the Blue roots vein.

While the core of the CD is Rick Estrin’s original songs (with two by Kid Anderson and one by J. Hansen), lack of consistency saved it from perfection. For example, the opening track, “Big Time,” is a plodding clunker that might have worked better as the last song.

The real fun begins with track two, “Back From the Dead.” Estrin speaks the opening, “Man, I was heart broken, chain smokin,’ drinkin’ wine and taking dope, hit the wall, took a fall – damn near wasn’t here at all! Hey Buddy, I ain’t jokin;’ I came this close to croakin’ – but, now I’m back, back from the dead....” Now, that’s the Rick Estrin magic! As he says the word “back” the band kicks in with some jumping rhythm that drives ducks out of water to dance.

“Catchin’ Hell,” the first cut I played on my radio show, is a subtle and haunting slow blues with both shimmering guitar sounds and single string, noteworthy work.

Four great instrumentals are Andersen’s smoking “Earthquake,” the sprightly, jazzy, chromatic harp led “Cool Breeze” created by the entire band, the final track’s Andersen led romp through surf and Rockabilly, and Estrin’s self fulfilling “Take It Slow.”

When I read the title of “I’m Takin’ Out My In-laws” penned and sung by J. Hansen, I was politely thinking, “Oh, take them out for dinner, I guess.” But, NO – this is the Blues, baby! Hansen sings, “Mister [father in law], I’ve got a temper / You really ought to let me be/ Or else me and my pistol / Are gonna prune the family tree! I’m gonna take out my in-laws before this day is through...!” The music is just as rippingly raucous as the lyrics. Perfect!

Little Charlie may have “retired,” but here is to hoping Rick Estrin stays on the circuit years longer. This CD proves he still has the ability to create incredibly entertaining songs and choose Blue Ribbon band members like Chris Andersen. And, what with this global warming thang, we are going to need all the cool we can get.

Reviewer James “Skyy Dobro” Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ and Blues Blast contributor. His weekly radio show “Friends of the Blues” can be heard each Thursday from 4:30 – 6:00pm on WKCC 91.1 FM in Kankakee, IL
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