East Side Slim
Estrin and The Nightcats – Twisted – Alligator
most blues fans probably know, Little Charlie Baty
chose to come off the road, exiting from Little
Charlie and The Nightcats and taking his name with
him. Many fans had always assumed that band front-man,
vocalist, harp player and songwriter Rick Estrin
was Little Charlie. An easy enough mistake to make,
but a mistake just the same. Well, Estrin has now
taken full control of the band with Baty’s
departure and has rechristened the group Rick Estrin
and The Nightcats. This rechristening has also led
to a change in the band’s overall sound. Known
primarily as a jump blues band (although that was
never entirely accurate) under Little Charlie’s
reign, the band under Estrin’s control is
a tough, hard-edged blues band that typically plays
to an ever-present groove.
So, who took on the guitar chair in the band? That
person happens to be Kid Andersen, the best Fabulous
T-Birds guitarist who never actually played for
the band. Kid does not play in Charlie’s style
at all; his tone tends to be grittier, greasier,
more Texas influenced. When I hear Kid play, I hear
influences such as Junior Watson, Freddie King and
the Vaughan brothers. Kid is originally from Norway,
and by the time he was 18 years old he was backing
touring American bluesmen who came through Norway.
He moved to California when he was 20, and within
a few years had joined Charlie Musselwhite’s
band – Kid knows how to back great harp players.
He has also released several solo CDs.
The Nightcat rhythm section has been stable since
2003. J. Hansen is still the drummer. He has been
playing professionally since age 13, and began playing
in Dixieland and Trad jazz styles. He continued
playing various jazz and R&B/funk styles through
college (and beyond), eventually landing with Steve
Lucky and the Rhumba Bums in 1999. He joined The
Nightcats in 2002. Bass player Lorenzo Farrell caught
the jazz bug in high school, switching from piano
to upright bass. Lorenzo has played jazz for many
years, and he also ended up in Steve Lucky’s
band during the same time period J. Hansen was in
the band. Farrell joined The Nightcats in 2003,
reuniting the rhythm section of J. and himself.
Songs: (all songs by Rick Estrin except as noted)
1. Big Time
--This tune kicks the CD off in fine fashion. It’s
full of sweat and attitude; mean sounding harp,
dirty guitar, and heavy rhythm. This tune could
fit well onto one of James Harman’s Black
Top era albums.
2. Back From the Dead
--This one contains some killer guitar work from
Kid Andersen, especially during his solos. No harp
on this song, as it’s a rockin’ tune
featuring Kid’s guitar. The clever lyrics
are about the tough life Estrin led back in the
day, and how he knows how fortunate he is to be
around today, doing what he loves to do –
3. U B U
--This song rides a very cool groove, with Kid again
displaying some tough guitar lines. Rick steps up
to match him with his own down-and-dirty harp work.
Kid and Rick sound great playing together.
4. Walk All Day
--A funky, struttin’ blues about women who
know how to walk. Guys, you all know this is the
truth - East Side Slim knows it well. You see that
certain woman, whose manner of walking speaks directly
to that inner, caveman brain. Girls like that will
drive a good man crazy – crazy with passion.
If you’ve got a girl like that, make sure
to hold on to her! “Girl when you walk that
way, I can watch you walk away all day…”
Rick speaks the truth!
5. Catchin’ Hell
--Change of pace time… This is a deep, slow
blues, with some beautiful guitar work courtesy
of Kid. His work here sounds to me kind of like
a cross between Magic Sam and Stevie Ray.
6. Earthquake – (Kid Andersen)
--This is a fun rockin’ instrumental used
as a feature for Kid Andersen. Surf blues anyone?
It’s watusi time! Rick isn’t to be left
out, as he lays a screamin’ harp solo on us.
7. P.A. Slim Is Back
--This is an up-tempo, swinging tune, probably the
closest in style on the Twisted album to the band’s
sound as Little Charlie and The Nightcats. The song
is a harp playing feature, at least when Rick isn’t
singing, and Kid knocks off a blistering solo. I’m
not sure who P.A. Slim is (Estrin’s alter-ego?,
maybe a conglomeration of several folks?), but the
song sure sounds great.
8. A Ton of Money
--This is a mid-tempo rockin’ blues tune,
with a seriously nasty sounding guitar tone. That’s
nasty as in very cool. Who hasn’t ever dreamed
of what they could do with a big old pile of cash?
9. Take It Slow
--You are taking it slow here, as this cut is an
atmospheric, slow-blues instrumental with deep Chicago
roots, and a deep, deep groove. Rick’s amplified
harp playing here is phenomenal, full of fire and
feeling, and Kid’s backing-work on guitar
is dead-on perfect. Kid really knows how to mesh
his own playing with a harp player.
I’m Takin’ Out My In-Laws – (J.
--This up-tempo bluesy/rockabilly-flavored track
is written and sung by drummer J. Hansen. I’ll
tell you what, he isn’t singing about taking
his In-laws out to dinner. You figure out the rest!
With J. on vocals, Estrin gets another chance to
display is formidable harp talents. On this tune,
he’s playing in an old-school Chicago style
– very few harp players out there perform
that style better than Rick.
Cool Breeze – (Rick Estrin, Kid Andersen,
Lorenzo Farrell, J. Hansen)
--Aw, this is very cool. It’s a chromatic-driven
jazzy instrumental, swinging along very nicely.
Kid has to play a little prettier here, but he still
manages to mix a little grit in there. As is the
case with many jazz tunes, each player gets some
solo or featured playing time.
You Can’t Come Back
--This tune, featuring a very clever lyric, is performed
in a modernized Rice Miller style. Sometimes your
woman leaves you one too many times for her own
good, and that’s what this song is about.
A good man is usually better off when a woman like
that finally moves on.
--This song is an acoustically performed deep, slow
blues. Kid sounds wonderful on the acoustic guitar,
and the brushed drums are a treat. Rick uses his
harp to add color and shading to the song. Muddy
Waters made his name singing this type of tune,
and I would like to think that he would approve
of this one whole-heartedly.
14. Bigfoot – (Kid Andersen)
--The big finale, this instrumental cut is a greasy
rockabilly-styled raver, with touches of Texas swing,
surf and Link Wray thrown in for good measure. It’s
a LOT of fun!
Those of you who are expecting
the new Nightcats CD to sound like a Little Charlie
CD will be taken by surprise by Twisted, the new
album from Rick Estrin and The Nightcats. This album
is definitely Rick Estrin’s show, and the
songs are focused around his songwriting and musical
tastes, his harmonica playing, and the guitar playing
of Kid Andersen. Kid is a great player, with a tone
and style quite different than that of Little Charlie
Baty. While I do miss hearing new material from
Charlie, (he’s an incredibly inventive musician),
Kid’s playing is greasier than Charlie’s,
a little rougher-around-the-edges and more twangy.
Mostly it’s greasier, which fits the tunes
here wonderfully – there’s very little
jump blues present, but everything swings like crazy.
If Rick writes it, it’s going to have a swingin’
groove to it at some level. The songs run the gamut
of styles here, from hard blues, to rockabilly,
to greasy guitar-driven blues, to slow blues, well,
you get the idea. Hopefully, Estrin and the current
configuration of The Nightcats will stay together
for many more albums, as they are definitely onto
something good! Let’s rate this bad boy -
STLBluesometer rating of 4.50 - this one just gets
better and better every time you listen to it!
- aka "East