Not all white-boy blues is secondhand. A few players, primarily Left Coasters, have fashioned a school of their own over the years, crossing the hard-edged Chicago strain with swing and jump styles. At the forefront of this mix stands Little Charlie and the Nightcats, a formidable Sacramento foursome that gets it done by coupling lights-out musicianship with original material notorious for its clever and catchy lyrics.
The latter, along with some of the former, is the handiwork of harmonica player and frontman Rick Estrin. His razor-sharp harp work, well-connected to that of masters Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson II, is complemented by cut-above skills with the lyric pen. A typical Estrin saga can evoke the crafty comedy of a Louis Jordan tune or the street-corner irony of Sonny Boy, packaged in Estrin's own sly vocal persona.
Largely responsible for the band's style-crossing is guitarist "Little" Charlie Baty. As comfortable and authoritative with jazz and rockabilly as straight-ahead blues, and possessed of first-rate chops, Baty has fused his diverse influences into one of the most distinctive signatures in blues. Last heard on disc on 2002's That's Big, Charlie and company are long overdue. In the meantime, the live edition should be lots of fun.
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