RICK ESTRIN & THE NIGHTCATS                                                                                          CEDRIC BURNSIDE & LIGHTNING MALCOLM                                                                           The Basement, Sydney – Fri Oct 1, 2010.

One of the best venues in Sydney had a couple of very different blues acts that were to appear the next day at the Bateman’s Bay festival – it could have been billed as “Two Shades of Blue”! While their approaches to the music are not the same, both showed plenty of energy such that most patrons were dancing in their seats soon after the music began, for sadly, there is no dance floor at The Basement. But enough of the preamble.

Drummer/vocalist Burnside is a grandson of the late guitarist and singer R.L. Burnside, one of the more recent “discoveries” from the northern hill country of Mississippi since Fred McDowell. The music is NOT “Delta”, being strongly influenced by the fife and drum band music that survived in those hills longer than in most other regions of the South. It is mainly one-chord music of a trance-like nature, music that sucks you into its groove – grabs you by the throat is more like it – that choogles along until it’s time for a different tune. Beginning with the North Mississippi standard “Black Mattie”, the duo went through some sixteen numbers in their allotted time. They included an homage song to R.L., “Got So Many Women”, “Heavy Load”, “You Better Treat That Woman Right”, “I See Why”, and ending with another standard in that region, “See My Jumper Hanging on the Line”. Steve Malcolm is built like a high school gridiron linebacker (or rugby league player), but plays his open-tuned guitar with panache and feeling. Cedric Burnside looks more like a high school basketball point guard and is a terrific drummer, one more in a long line of singing Mississippi drummers. Both musicians worked with R.L. Burnside and it shows in their familiarity with each other, the tunes, and that style of playing. Mostly one chord near-drones, with one three chord piece (“Keep On”), a few with small diversions hinting at more than a single chord, their performance was stirring in person. I have not heard any of their records and this is a style that may not translate that well to disc, but it sure makes for great party music in person!

Rick Estrin and his band, on the other hand, are musically more “sophisticated” than that, ALL their pieces being I, IV, V blues and then some and often more than 12-bar type. Estrin is a distillation of Little Walter, George Smith, and “Sonny Boy Williamson” II on the harmonica – it’s a West Coast thing. [The band used to be Little Charlie & the Nightcats, but original guitarist Charlie Baty has retired – since Rick has always been the main song writer and the lead singer, not a whole lot has changed.] He writes songs that are often humorous dealing with male/female inter-relationships, sings well, plays the HELL out of the harp, and has a TIGHT road-tested band. They are Chris “Kid” Anderson on guitar, Lorenzo Farrell on bass guitar and organ, and J. Hansen on drums… all sing some back-up and have their own feature over the course of the evening’s set. Rick Estrin also came on near the end of the Burnside/Malcolm set and played one chord monster harp with them on a couple of tunes, proving his versatility and mastery of his instrument.

While focusing on their most recent Alligator album, the songs ran the gamut from “You Can’t Come Back” (w. SBW II style harp), “Wrap It Up”, “Don’t Squeeze Too Tight”, “Don’t Do It”, and “Big Time”. In all cases, the members played solidly and the soloing was never too long… Kid Anderson is a lively replacement for Little Charlie and adds much to the band’s performances with his versatility. The Nightcats are still guaranteed to put on a great performance and the folks at the festival the next day must have boogied ’til the break of dawn – or whenever curfew was! A satisfying night’s music: go see/hear them anytime either group returns.



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