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Rick Estrin and The Nightcats – One Wrong Turn – Alligator, 2012
East Side SlimBy East Side Slim

Rick Estrin and The Nightcats – One Wrong Turn – Alligator, 2012

One Wrong Turn is the 2nd release from Rick Estrin at the helm of the Nightcats. The band has been touring with this lineup for 3 years plus, and is tighter and meaner and groovier than ever.

The rhythm section of J. Hansen (drums) and Lorenzo Farrell (bass, organ, keyboard) has been in place for the better part of a decade (Hansen since 2002, Farrell since 2003), and is impressive, indeed. Kid Andersen has been manning the guitar chair for about 4 years now, displaying all the fire, taste and inventiveness we've come to expect since he burst onto the blues scene. And bandleader Estrin never seems to get any older, only better (how does he do that!) – the Nightcats are a road-seasoned crew of four outstanding musicians who create a sum even greater than their already impressive solo parts; this is a band effort in the truest sense of the word. One Wrong Turn is a bit of a misnomer as the CD title, because there just aren't any wrong turns on this here; it's a good one!

The Songs: (songs by Rick Estrin unless otherwise specified)

1. D.O.G.
--This one's a rockin' rhumba-tized ode to scoundrels everywhere…those players who will steal your girl away just for the fun of it. The rhythm section of Hansen and Farrell rule this one, featuring one of the dirtiest, nastiest bass-lines ever heard in a Nightcats tune.

2. Lucky You
--Hard-luck vs good-luck is the story here, and why some people seem to have too much good luck for their own good (without wanting to share even a bit of their good fortune…) Rick's lyric is scathing yet humorous, and his harp lines are heavy as a gold bar (or a lead bar if you're not the lucky one!) The rhythm section percolates hotly, driving this one hard!

3. Callin' All Fools
--This one sounds a little more like a classic Nightcats jazz-inflected tune. It's laid-back, with an insightful lyric, but also features something of a new touch for the Nightcats, a burbling organ bed – which fits the tune like a perfumed silk glove. Estrin breaks out his chromatic harp here (beautiful solo) and Kid lays in a tight, snarly, twangly (twangy and gnarly) solo. Good stuff!

4. (I Met Her, On The) Blues Cruise
--Listen closely to the name dropping of fellow blues-cruise artists during this tune – and watch out for the Mitch Woods reference! This one's all about fun, and about poking a little more fun at the shenanigans taking place on the cruise. It's a rockin' little number, and be sure to take a look at the video for the tune available via the internet (sadly, not included on the CD release – it should have been – Alligator missed the mark there.)

5. Movin' Slow
--The band brings the tempo down a bit here, rolling along on a lazy (but oh so tight), swampy groove bolstered by a perfectly placed sax section (all provided by Jack Sanford.) Rick has a phenomenal old-school harp groove working, playing through what almost sounds like a Leslie rotating speaker, giving his harp a cool liquid-like feel.

6. One Wrong Turn
--The CD title track, this mid-tempo groover sounds salacious and dangerous. Kid provides stingin' guitar and Lorenzo plays bass and greasy organ, adding much to the menace of the song. Add to this a powerful harp solo from Rick, leading me to believe that "One Wrong Turn" might very well be a turn you do not want to make!

7. Desperation Perspiration – (Hansen and Estrin)
--Something not typically associated with The Nightcats' sound over the years is funk, but that's what's on-tap here. It's not heavy James Brown funk, but more along the lines of Johnny "Guitar" Watson funk.

8. Zonin' – (Farrell)
--Interesting….and I like it! Let's call it organ jazz trio music for the 2010's crowd. This is an intensely groovin' instrumental track set firmly in the school of '60 organ-trio masters such as McGriff or McDuff. It's Farrell's, Hansen's and Andersen's show (Estrin sits this one out) – B3-style jazz via The Nightcats.

9. Broke And Lonesome
--This is probably the hardest straight blues cut on the album, being a tough slow blues out of the Magic Sam school. Kid Andersen's guitar is front and center, but always tasteful, and Rick Estrin's vocal delivery is sly and knowing. Also, the rhythm section's work is beautiful here, to include organ from Lorenzo Farrell.

10. You Ain't The Boss Of Me – (Hansen)
--After J. Hansen's feature tune from last album, I'm Taking Out My In-Laws, it's starting to look like there's a theme of sorts occurring; I'm sure it's all meant tongue-in-cheek (at least I hope so…) Hansen sings lead on this tough, blues-rockin' tune, with the rest of the Nightcats digging in deep. The track serves as a feature for Kid's fiery side, as he flat out tears it up, and Rick steps up for a couple of smokin' harp solos (Cotton would be proud!)

11. Old New – (Estrin and Woodruff)
--Just to remind you that he can play some serious harp, Rick takes us all back to the woodshed, laying some acoustic harp work on us (funky, groovy shades of Sonny Boy II). This is a solo effort for Estrin, featuring his stunning harmonica playing, insightful lyrics, sly singing and one of the funkiest deliveries you'll ever hear –short of the man himself (Rice Miller.)

12. The Legend Of Taco Cobbler – (Kid Andersen)
--Well, it had to happen…Kid just couldn't be held in-check any longer. This final track is a barnstorming featurette for "The Kid", with the band in tow for the ride. The short description would be spaghetti surf mariachi (that's right), but after only a couple listens I'm hearing Kid run through surf, mariachi, ska, carnival, shredder, spaghetti western (Estrin shows up here for a little haunting effect), prog-rock, Mersey-beat, classical (several styles)…and God knows what else. Seriously! I'm waiting to hear this one performed live…it'll be a gas!

The Verdict:

It's evident that Rick Estrin and The Nightcats have continued to evolve as a band since Kid Andersen joined ranks, and it's also evident that 3-4 years of touring has made this as tight a unit as you're going to come across – blues, rock or otherwise. Rick's songwriting is as strong as ever, and the addition of much more of Lorenzo Farrell's organ/keyboard work is serving to expand the scope and sound of the band beyond what already could only be termed phenomenal. As always with a Nightcats album, you'll hear a nice mix of styles (you definitely won't get bored!) The band's previous effort, Twisted, was one of the finest releases of 2009 and One Wrong Turn might actually eclipse it – and that's saying a lot! I only have one minor quibble with this release, and that is the fact that the video for "Blues Cruise" was not included on the album as a bonus feature. As much fun as the song itself is, once you've see the video version the song-only version is a tough sell (the video if hysterical – well done, Nightcats.) But, that may have been an Alligator Records decision, rather than a Nightcats decision.

OK, it's time to rate this bad boy. East Side Slim says that One Wrong Turn by Rick Estrin and The Nightcats is deserving of a rating of 4.50 on the STLBluesometer. Twenty-five years into his Alligator tenure Rick Estrin continues to write outstanding songs and the Nightcats continue to show everyone how this should be done. Long live The Nightcats!

For more information concerning Rick Estrin and The Nightcats, see the following websites:

Lee Howland - aka East Side Slim

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