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Album Review

The second Rick Estrin solo album to replace the Nightcats' longtime guitarist Little Charlie Baty with Kid Andersen (who again co-produces, records, and mixes, almost making him Estrin's equal for support responsibilities) shows a bit of a progression. It's still rooted in the good-time approach Estrin and Little Charlie adhered to for nine Alligator releases, but pushes more at the edges, toughening up the attack to include hints of surf, rock, jump blues, reggae, Booker T. & the MG's soul, and a terrific '50s-styled slow dance ballad in "Movin' Slow." As frontman, the sartorially sharp Estrin is difficult to beat. His sly fox-guarding-the-hen house vocals and dynamic harp work are flashy in all the right ways, and these songs are some of the best he has recorded which, with his extensive catalog, is quite a compliment. The title track is a typically swinging blues pushed by an Estrin harp solo even the great Little Walter would have been proud of. It's complemented by Andersen's tough rhythmic guitar fills and organ from Lorenzo Farrell, the band's somewhat hidden MVP who also handles bass duties. Estrin's humorous, show-stopping story songs are his calling card with this album's clever "(I Met Her on The) Blues Cruise" filling that slot and simultaneously letting him namecheck some of his fellow blues cruise musicians. But it's when he displays serious chops playing it straight on "Broke and Lonesome," a cutting Chicago blues with Andersen's biting guitar shifting tempos for the bridge, proving Estrin and his band aren't just about double entendres and flamboyant frontmen. He even hands vocals over to bandmate J. Hanson for the drummer's rocking and slightly mean-spirited "You Ain't the Boss of Me," but Estrin seems M.I.A. on the album's two instrumentals. That's odd, because the second of those, Andersen's closing "The Legend of Taco Cobbler," is, at nearly seven minutes, the disc's longest and arguably most ambitious track, shifting from surf to Tex-Mex, spaghetti Western, Memphis soul, and about three other genres (including a brief classical riff) throughout its many changes. As a producer, Andersen's intricate and detailed touch brings additional sounds, occasional overdubbing, and unexpected effects to bolster the mix (the album sounds particularly good with head phones). When an unaccompanied Estrin goes completely solo (harp, vocal, and foot stomps) on "Old News," you understand that in a pinch, he could carry a set without a band. But for this release he has one, and a pretty great one at that, making One Wrong Turn the right move at this stage of Rick Estrin's lengthy and productive career.

One Wrong Turn, Rick Estrin & The Nightcats
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