Online since August 2002

Solid, but not quite perfect

Reviewed May 2005

Nine Lives
Nine Lives
By Little Charlie & the Nightcats

Alligator Records: 2005

To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

Some bluesmen were just meant to share the spotlight. Consider a few of the better pairings in contemporary blues and blues-rock: Anson Funderburgh and Sam Myers, Smokin' Joe Kubek and Bnois King, and Kim Wilson and Jimmie Vaughan.

But few teams are as perfectly matched or have as much game as singer/harpist Rick Estrin and guitarist Little Charlie Baty.

Since the 1987 release of Little Charlie & the Nightcats' first album, "All the Way Crazy," the two have been fronting a blues outfit that blends expert playing with original material filled with humor and attitude. Their sound includes elements of jump blues, swing, rockabilly, Chicago blues and jazz.

Many of their strong points are in evidence on the latest Little Charlie & the Nightcats release, "Nine Lives." Estrin and Baty are joined by another new rhythm section – drummer J. Hansen and bass player Lorenzo Farrell – but the band's template remains intact. Estrin shows ample swagger in his lyrics and his harp playing is strong as ever. Plus Baty gets a number of opportunities to showcase his guitar skills. For longtime fans, everything they like about Little Charlie & the Nightcats can be found on this 13-song set.

But there's something missing.

The band establishes a cool groove on the opener, "Keep Your Big Mouth Shut," and picks up the pace only slightly on "Handle With Care," one of the more risqué songs in the Nightcats' catalog. The Latin-tinged "Got to Have a Job" and the instrumental "Tag (You're It)" allow Baty to step to the forefront with his tasty playing. There's even a doo-wop, r& feel to "Don't Cha Do Nothin'."

The problem is that the collection doesn't really catch fire until the final cut, "Slap Happy," a powerful instrumental that plays to Baty's rowdier side.

There are certainly a number of keepers on "Nine Lives." It's just not the place to start for first-time listeners. Newcomers to Little Charlie & the Nightcats will be better served picking up the "Deluxe Edition" overview or the previous release, "That's Big." Better yet, catch the band live.

Review by Don Weiner. Don is a writer and editor based in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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