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Album Review

Although founders Little Charlie Baty and harpist/singer/songwriter Rick Estrin welcome two new cats on bass and drums, little else has changed on Little Charlie & the Nightcats' eighth studio effort, again on Alligator, the only label they have recorded for. While that could be a problem for some outfits, the music here is so perfectly conceived, well-written, and performed with cracking musicianship that only the grouchiest blues purist will complain they aren't breaking much new ground. Estrin's slimy, woman-distrusting, often comical delivery on his compositions — such as "Desperate Man," "Livin' Good," and a duet with the equally non-PC West Coast singer/harp player James Harman trading quips on the title track — make for a lighthearted listening experience. But clearly these guys can also play; Baty and guest guitarist Rusty Zinn's dueling hollow-body guitars on "Bluto's Back" and Estrin's chromatic harp solo on "Coastin' Hank" (two of the disc's three instrumentals) prove that the group's chops are as finely tuned as their ability to cut up and add a dose of levity to the usually ultra-serious blues. The occasional use of horns on four tracks injects a jazzy R&B sensibility to the proceedings and fills out the sound. Zinn's vocal on "It Better Get Better" also takes the focus off Estrin, whose schtick starts to wear thin by the 12th track — the album's lone cover — a version of "Steady Rollin' Man," credited to Sonny Boy Williamson ll, who wrote these particular lyrics, not Robert Johnson. The group's roots in Louis Jordan's swinging jump blues are showcased in "Money Must Think I'm Dead" and even new drummer Joey Ventittelli gets a songwriting credit on the Chicago blues of the album's kickoff track, "Real Love," which features some lip-shredding, overdriven, electrified harp from Estrin. Established fans will rejoice in this exceptional release that treads water in all the right ways, and newcomers can start here to appreciate Little Charlie & the Nightcats' charming, unorthodox yet dedicated approach to the blues.


Formed: 1976 in San Francisco, CA

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s

One of the hardest-working barroom blues bands on the West Coast, Little Charlie & the Nightcats started out in the mid-'70s, began recording around a decade later, and just kept on going strong. The two constants over the Nightcats' long history were co-founders Little Charlie Baty (guitar) and Rick Estrin (harmonica, lead vocals). Baty's biting licks were the perfect complement to Estrin's devil-may-care swagger and wryly humorous, storytelling lyrics, and that combo was enough to maintain a decades-long...
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That's Big!, Little Charlie & The Nightcats
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