Rick Estrin and the Night Cats – The Hits Keep Coming | Album Review

Rick Estrin and the Night CatsThe Hits Keep Coming

Alligator Records


12 Tracks 48 minutes

Any new recording by this band of musical savants is cause for rejoicing. This time Rick Estrin and his merry crew deliver a truly exceptional album steeped in the traditions, yet sounding ever so vibrant and inventive.

Of course, that task becomes easy with the talented Estrin leading the way with his witty, thought-provoking songwriting, hipster vocals, and plenty of his masterful blowing on an array of harmonicas. Kid Andersen has received numerous award nominations for his guitar playing. His contributions extend to playing bass on four tracks in addition to recording, producing, and mixing the record. Long-time member Lorenzo Farrell expertly fills out the arrangements on organ throughout the proceedings while the amazing Derrick “D’Mar” Martin lays down a steady stream of exuberant grooves.

Estrin calls us home from the start with some powerful blasts from his chromatic harp. The band lays down a percolating rhythm on “Somewhere Else,” with the leader’s sly lyrics providing a caring but firm push out the door. The title cut builds around Estrin’s moody sermonizing about the wretched state of the world, with the vocal contributions of the Sons Of The Soul Revivers adding to the other-worldly soundscape. The legendary Jerry Jemmott sets the pace with his usual dynamic bass line, one of six tracks he appears on.

“The Circus Is Still In Town (The Monkey Song)” was co-written by the Estrin and another fine harp ace, Jim Liban. The playful nature of music that would be right at home under the big top can’t hide the serious nature of this telling ode to the struggles of dealing with addiction. The mood briefly improves when Farrell cuts loose on the organ. Another Estrin original, “I Finally Hit The Bottom,” is a slow blues classic that finds him beginning to emerge from the emotional ravages of a love gone cold. Andersen does his best to push the healing process along with a blistering solo.

There is plenty of fun to be had on the breezy up-tempo romp, “911,” with Estrin at his wits end trying to deal with an abundance of good loving that that has him fearing for his health. The instrumental ‘Sack Of Kools” was penned by the entire band, but undoubtedly sparked by the State of California banning Andersen’s beloved Kool Menthol cigarettes. Estrin’s melodic chromatic harp solo flows into another impressive organ workout from Farrell, then Andersen does his best to calm his nerves with some beautifully constructed six string magic.

The band shifts gears on “I Ain’t Worried About Nothin’,” which certainly could serve as a tribute to Sonny Boy Williamson II as Estrin proudly dissects the advantages of a life of freedom, only to have the facade come tumbling down with a telling comment at the end. Troubles are still nipping at his heels on “Learn To Lose,” a minor key lesson in the art of living. Farrell helped compose another haunting slow blues, “Time For Me To Go,” giving Estrin one more opportunity to ponder life as viewed at the back end. One thing for sure, he remains one of the finest harp players on the planet.

The band indulges in two covers. One from Muddy Waters, “Diamonds At Her Feet,” makes perfect sense. Farrell takes over on bass as the band sets a jaunty pace. Estrin burns through another magnificent chromatic harp excursion that lights a fire under Andersen, who responds with explosive runs of lightning-quick phrases. Leonard Cohen’s moody ballad, “Everybody Knows,” may seem like a strange selection, but the song’s dark nature is a natural fit with the rest of the album. Andersen’s acoustic guitar work and backing vocals from the Sons of the Soul Revivers provide the perfect accompaniment for Estrin’s forlorn vocal turn, making this track a standout performance.

The final track, ‘Whatever Happened To Dobie Strange,” finds Jerry Jemmott laying down a funky bass line while Estrin waxes nostalgic over one of the drummers for Little Charlie & the Nightcats from back in the day. Estrin pokes fun at some of the odd questions that come from fans, including the inevitable mix-up between him and the late Charlie Baty. D’Mar adds some hilarious asides, with other contributions from Charlie Musselwhite, Bob Welsh, Lisa Leuschner Andersen, and Marty Dodson.

With their sixth album on Alligator Records, Estrin & the Nightcats once again prove that the blues can be fun, sounding modern without foregoing the traditional roots. The world would indeed be a better place if more artists could rise to the level of songwriting that Estrin has achieved. And when music this good is performed by four masters of their instruments, it is cause for celebration, making this album highly recommended!

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