CD Review
That’s Big- Little Charlie and the Nightcats (Alligator)
By Glenn Weiser
Metroland, June 27, 2002


In any musical tradition, there are those who expand the boundaries and there are preservationists. Little Charlie and the Nightcats are a hot quartet who have long hewed to Chicago blues and West Coast swing, and their latest 14 tracks stay the course. The point of That’s Big is that when it ain’t broke, you don’t fix it.

 Charlie Baty works the fretboard of his hollow-body Gibson with a well-honed sense of restraint. His jazzy playing is understated, but he can still send up cascades of notes when the moment demands. As a vocalist, Rick Estrin is more of a crooner than a belter, which may explain why the Nightcats have leaned toward humorous material over the years. He is one the best blues harmonica players on the scene today, though, and his chops evoke the muses of past masters such as Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson II.

The title cut, an original (as are all but one of the songs), is a sly paean to portly women. Estrin’s harmonica recalls Little Walter’s jazzy phrasing in “Livin’ Good,” while a guest horn section provides an uptown backdrop. The swingy instrumental “Bluto’s Back in Town” showcases Little Charlie and guest Rusty Zinn swapping insouciant guitar lines. Robert Johnson’s “Steady Rollin’ Man,” the only cover here, is a rare harmonica-and-stand-up-bass duet that is a recreation of the Willie Dixon and Sonny Boy Williamson II rendition of the song.

List of Metroland Stories by Glenn Weiser   ©2002 by Glenn Weiser. All rights reserved.

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