Local Licks 

This week we review Mike P., Rick Estrin and the Nightcats, The Fresh & Onlys, and Casual & J. Rawls.

Mike P., Cupcakes & Kookies

Excessive use of alliteration gets annoying, especially when it's designed to highlight the rapper's last initial. But there's no denying that Mike P. is exceptionally good at it. He'll cram up to ten "P" words in a single line, a skill he exhibits with flair on self-congratulatory track "The P." He's a nimble rapper with an arsenal of catchy, minimalist beats by various local producers. "P" is for "proficient." (Meshewaa Entertainment)

Rick Estrin and the Nightcats, One Wrong Turn

This quartet is led by Rick Estrin, whose yowling voice is nearly as tough and crackly as his harmonica, lending fervor to lyrics about bad luck and star-crossed love. "Broke and Lonesome" is a wonderfully raggedy blues with forceful guitar solos by Chris "Kid" Andersen. "Lucky You" is an upbeat, shuffling tune about jealousy. (Alligator Records)

The Fresh & Onlys, Long Slow Dance

Oft credited for helping usher in the current San Francisco garage renaissance, this lean rock quartet specializes in smart, bubbly, high-spirited tunes that have the compactness of pop, albeit with smarter lyrics. (Here lies a man with stars in his eyes, Tim Cohen coos on "Presence of Mind.") The Fresh & Onlys are also retro fetishists, favoring old gear, jangly chords, and bah-bah harmonies. (Mexican Summer)

Casual & J. Rawls, Respect Game or Expect Flames

Casual is not the most talented rapper in Oakland's beloved Hieroglyphics crew, but he's perhaps the most likeable. And he sparkles in the company of gifted producer J. Rawls. whose beats oscillate from Latin bossa to neo-soul to minimalist, industrial funk. J. Rawls got seventeen hundred beats, Casual trumpets in the free-associative rap "La Danse du Fessie." That's probably no overstatement. (Nature Sounds)

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