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November 2019

Rick Estrin & The Nightcats
Alligator Records

Rick Estrin

If you've been listening to Rick Estrin & The Nightcats long enough, then you pretty much know what to expect from the latest, Contemporary (Alligator Records). Lots of solid blues with smokin' harmonica and guitar, seamlessly mixing in Estrin's signaturel novelty songs. This version of the Nightcats includes Lorenzo Farrell (organ and piano), the omnipresent Kid Andersen (guitar and other miscellaneous sounds) and Derrick D'Mar Martin (drums). Like seemingly every other blues disc nowadays, it was recorded and mixed at Andersen's Greaseland Studio in Santa Cruz, California.

Martin sets the tone at he start of "I'm Running," using brushes on his drums to create an eery, jazzy vibe as Estrin's inner paranoia and nervousness comes out while he's being chased by someone or something. This one will get your heart pumping rapidly. That same attitude continues when Estrin sings about the "Resentment File," as he thinks that women are keeping notes on everything he's ever done wrong. "Contemporary" has Estrin singing about how he's got to change his style to keep up with modern trends, and here is where the various sound effects that mark a lot of Andersen's recordings with various moog and synthesizer sound effect techniques come in. There's even a brief biographical rap by Martin about Estrin's background. Kind of brilliant, but we all know that deep down Estrin is a bluesman and doesn't believe any of this idea of becoming contemporary.

Farrell uses his organ to establish a snaky, late night feel on "She Nuts Up," a shuffle number also leaving space for a nice Estrin harmonica solo. "New Shape" is Estrin's tribute to Junior Parker, a mid-tempo blues on which he compliments his woman's new appearance. The funky "Root Of All Evil" has one of my favorite lines on the album: "...if money is the root of all evil, what do you call being broke ..."

Estrin plays his chromatic harmonica on the plodding dark blues, "The Main Event," singing about what's going to happen when he's gone from this world. Yes, it's very dark, but in a Rick Estrin kind of tongue-in-cheek way. We even get some funereal-type organ from Farrell to emphasize the mood before Estrin sings, "... I may go to the devil, or I might rot here in the ground ..." The mood lift comes on the next cut, the instrumental "Cupcakin'," with very hot bluesy, jazzy guitar from Andersen.

With the holiday season coming soon, it's only appropriate for Estrin to tell us what he thinks about the holidays on the bouncy "New Year's Eve." We find out that he doesn't like Christmas, but that New Year's Eve is a chance for him to move on to what he hopes will be a better year. Estrin takes advantage of the closing number, "Bo Dee's Bounce," to really rip off plenty of extended harmonica riffs while drummer Martin drives the band with a tasteful and steady beat.

While everything that Estrin and the Nightcats have done has been great, Andersen's production work just takes Contemporary to an other level. It's an essential addition to the already prolific Nightcats library.

--- Bill Mitchell



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