Every now and then a CD comes along that is just so much fun
that you have to keep playing it over and over. Such is the case with One Wrong Turn by Rick Estrin and the
Nightcats. In terms of sheer fun, few albums can beat this one. This is one of
the best albums of 2012.
For more than 30 years Estrin fronted and played harp on the
San Francisco Bay Area Band, Little Charlie and the Nightcats. They did 10
albums for Alligator Records. Then in 2008, Charlie Baty retired from the
nonstop gruel of the road. So Estrin, drummer J. Hansen and bass player Lorenzo
Farrell decided to keep the band going and added guitar player extraordinaire
Kid Andersen, who shares the co-producing duties with Estrin on this album. One Wrong Turn is their second album as
Rick Estrin and the Nightcats. This is one of the tightest and most original
groups working today.
And yes, they are blues but genre hopping blues. Estrin
wrote or co-wrote nine of the 12 songs and you can see in his writing the
musical influence of everybody from Cab Calloway to Louis Jordan to the early
rock of Leiber and Stoller. And holding it all down is his incredible fat harp
sound that might be a mixture of Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson II
(Rice Miller) on some sort of super steroids. You hear the eclectic nature of
this band on the first track–“D.O.G”– which leads off with an explosive harp
blast and then settles in with a rumba groove.
You can’t appreciate this band without also digging the
persona Estrin has created. A true showman, he looks like a post-World War II
Los Angeles hipster with the coifed hair, pencil thin moustache, super sharp
suit and Blues Brothers shades. And he is truly one of the best and funniest
lyric writers working in American music today. From “D.O.G” which takes on guys
who think they are players with the ladies to the hilarious “(I Met Her On The)
Blues Cruise” which offers a revealing look at what happens below deck, Estrin
is something of a throwback as a writer. He tells a story and makes it so
interesting that you actually listen to the lyrics. And on top of it all are
his soulful vocals.
But the band is dead serious when it comes to great blues songs
like “Broke and Lonesome”– with great guitar work from Andersen–and “Old
News” where Estrin again shines on harp. Norway born Andersen turns this
into a world class band. Andersen released four solo albums before joining the
legendary harp player, Charlie Musselwhite, in 2004. He stayed with Musselwhite
until Estrin came calling.
On One Wrong Turn Andersen
contributes one of the best songs of the year, the instrumental “The Legend of
Taco Cobbler.” This nearly seven minute guitar masterpiece can only be
described as a musical spaghetti western meets surf music meets Tarantino’s
“Pulp Fiction” meets techno pop. Again, it is a song you have to listen to
again and again.
Even the cover art of the CD is terrific with a modernistic
1950’s or 1960’s design that might have graced a Hitchcock or 007 movie poster.
The Nightcats made a great decision to carry on after
Charlie Baty retired. Baty was a great guitar player in his own right, but the
Nightcats have shown they are still at the top of their game and just getting
better with age. One Wrong Turn is
the real deal. An all-around great CD.
DOWNLOAD: “(I Met
Her On The) Blues Cruise,” “Old News,” “Lucky You,” “The Legend of Taco
Cobbler” TOM CALLAHAN