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Album Review

As singer/harpist/songwriter and co-founder for Little Charlie & the Nightcats since 1976, Rick Estrin was often mistakenly called Charlie, the group's guitarist who seemed to be in the shadow of the flamboyant Estrin. Little Charlie Baty's exit from the rigors of touring in 2007 gave Estrin rights to officially lead the band, whose most recent rhythm section of bassist Lorenzo Farrell and drummer J. Hansen remain on board for the change. Well-known Norwegian guitarist Kid Andersen (Charlie Musselwhite, John Nemeth) picks up the guitar chores and things continue pretty much as they had been with Estrin even sticking with the Alligator label, which had steadfastly supported the band by releasing its nine previous albums. The replacement in guitarists hasn't altered the sound substantially — perhaps Andersen is a little less jump-blues oriented — and since Estrin was such a formidable vocal and harp presence, only the most die-hard Nightcats fans will notice the subtle musical shift. Estrin writes the majority of the tunes, capitalizing on the wry, humorous turns of phrases that made older tracks such as "My Next Ex-Wife" such show-stoppers. His nimble harmonica roars like Little Walter on "P.A. Slim Is Back" and the peppy "I'm Takin' Out My In-Laws," the only tune credited (and sung by) drummer Hansen. The group clicks on the "Fever"-styled, walking bass instrumental "Cool Breeze," where Estrin blows rich chromatic harmonica, Andersen displays his taste and restraint on jazzy leads, and standup bassist Farrell takes a rare solo. Andersen directs the group while the M.I.A. Estrin might have been shopping to add to his colorful wardrobe for the closing, surfy "Bigfoot," an odd way to finish the album since the band's leader is conspicuously absent. Regardless, this is a rollicking, fun, and successful debut for Estrin as a titular frontman to the act he's often thought to have led for years.

Twisted, Rick Estrin & The Nightcats
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