The Big Break

Little Charlie And The Nightcats

Alligator Records, 1989

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


One good thing about packing up the Pierce Memorial Archives for the big move is that I've redicsovered some titles I forgot about for a long time. They're not bad titles, they're just some that have been pushed from my attention due to some new toys I've added.

One of these was an album by the blues group Little Charlie & The Nightcats from 1989, The Big Break. Their third release on Alligator, this was the first album I listened to as blues coordinator of the college radio station. (It's also one of the albums that left with me when I left radio.) And while the band has unfairly continued to struggle on the bar circuit, listening to this album again showed me why I got interested in the blues in college.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The core of the band is guitarist "Little" Charlie Baty and, on harmonica and vocals, Rick Estrin - but the secret to their popularity isn't their musicianship. It's the sense of humor they put into their music. On "Don't Do It," Estrin puts into song the frustration we've all faced when our family doctor has told us to cut out of our lives things we enjoy - only in Estrin's case, the list doesn't stop. In a small way, it makes us feel like we don't have it as bad as Estrin's character, and we're able to laugh at his misfortunes.

The title track is another example, though the humor is a little more subtle. The preparations for an escape from jail are peppered with the background on how our hero got himself into such deep doo-doo in the first place. Nevertheless, one ends up hoping he makes it - though the song is a little vague on whether Estrin and his buddy "Snake" do indeed escape.

Other songs on this one are quite pleasurable - "Dump That Chump," "Side Stuff" and "Hurry Up And Wait" come to mind. Others, like "I Beg Your Pardon" and "That's O.K." fall flat.

And on the weak moments, it may have helped if Baty was a little stronger of a guitarist. He is more of a groove guitarist - able to rip off some tasty licks when the rhythm is right, but by no means a technical player.Bassist Jay Peterson and drummer Dobie Strange help pull the band into a tight groove at the right times - the band is more of a shuffle blues group than hardcore blues.

Maybe Little Charlie & The Nightcats isn't on the same level as, say, B.B.King, but The Big Break is an enjoyable album to put on the old CD player from time to time - especially when I need something to smile about. Glad I had a chance to re-discover it before I crammed it into a cardboard box for a few days.

Rating: B

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© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Alligator Records, and is used for informational purposes only.