Rick Estrin and Charlie Baty are revivalists. Their live show evokes not only south side Chicago clubs in the fifties, it also conjures comparisons with the droll side of the Marx Brothers existential sense of the absurd. And, though on principle groups with Hawaiian shirts and two-toned shoes under big pompadours are to be avoided at all costs, these guys manage to not take themselves too seriously, and put on a fun, rather than stupid
On the new album guitarist Baty continues to plumb his fat hollow-body sound, drawing from blues, swing-band and rockabilly sources. Estrin manages to call up the spirits of harp masters Little Walter (his overall tone and attack on amplified harp) and Sonny Boy Williamson II. The latter' s influence pervades the Estrin original "I Know She Used To Be Your Woman" both in Sonny Boy's intimate, insinuating vocal style, and the unamplified harp work-heavy on tremolo tones and the wah-wah effects that were
Williamson's trademark. The tune sounds like an out-take from Sonny Boy's early Chess sessions. "Steady Rolling Man" is a quite literal cover of a Williamson/Willie Dixon harp-acoustic bass duet, itself being their cover of a Robert Johnson tune.
Elsewhere, Estrin's songwriting is in the sardonic-humor mode that Willie
Dixon mined when he was house writer at Chess records for Muddy, Wolf and
others. Tunes like "That's Big" ("She got all that meat and potatoes
too") --a duet with James Harman-- and "Desperate Man" ("I'm in love with a
woman that I just can't stand")-- with guest Rusty Zinn on guitar -- have
tongue deep in cheek. Zinn takes vocal on the Latin-tinged "It Better Get
Better", a poppy jump number, with a sing-along hook.
There are several instrumentals; "Bluto's Back" is a guitar workout with Baty
and Zinn trading some slow-smoldering licks over a chordal organ backup. "Coastin' Hank" is an easy-going ride with Estrin on chromatic harp evoking some swing-jazz over/undertones. "Bayview Jump" is an uptempo romp, opening with fleet finger twitching by Baty, some ivory tickling by Chris Siebert, and a brief drum solo. Its a dance number for sure.
Though firmly rooted in the classic fifties Chicago blues sound, the Nightcats are not just another academically dreary cover band-they create in the mood and flavor of the time, but they make it enjoyable, rather than a history lesson.
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