Shadow Of The Blues

Little Charlie And The Nightcats

Alligator Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


When I started in radio back in 1989, my first titled job was blues coordinator. Liking the genre but not knowing very much about it, I started my education by listening to the first discs we received in that vein. The first disc I listened to was Little Charlie And The Nightcats, an experience which I absolutely loved.

Over the years, I have continued to listen to the band (although I admit I've not picked up some of their more recent releases), but guitarist Charlie Baty and lead vocalist Rick Estrin have always had a special place in my heart. Maybe that's why I was a little disappointed with their latest release, my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Shadow Of The Blues. While there is some of the good old-fashioned humor that this band is known for, sometimes the messages come off sounding a little bitter.

The band -- now with bassist Ronnie James Weber and drummer June Core -- doesn't change the formula that much for their sixth studio effort. The opening track, "Never Trust A Woman," continues the on-going streak of good-natured songs about the troubles one can experience in a relationship. (And, no, the woman is not always to blame; listen closely to what Estrin is singing here to catch the joke.) And Baty gets more than ample time to demonstrate his ample guitar skills; check out the track "Percolatin'" as proof of this.

But there's not as much obvious humor on Shadow Of The Blues as I've heard on past albums. Maybe in years past, tracks like "When Your Woman Is Gone" and "I Don't Drink Much" would have seemed more off the cuff. But the straight-up delivery of these tracks almost makes it seem like Estrin and crew are taking things a little too seriously. I also wonder what made the band choose to cover "Dirty Dealin' Mama" (which I first heard earlier this year on Paul Oscher's most recent release), a song that likewise doesn't have much humor in it.

Keyboardist Jimmy Pugh occasionally adds his talents to this disc -- though I have to admit I'm still not used to hearing much keyboard work with this band, and it still hasn't sunk in with me yet.

So what's different with Little Charlie And The Nightcats this time around? I would guess that Estrin and crew want to be taken a little more seriously with their work. What the band possibly didn't realize is that afficionados of the blues have always taken the band's work seriously; they didn't need to change their approach.

Shadow Of The Blues still has many redeeming moments proving that Baty and crew are a band that must be experienced. But I don't like the idea that the party might be taking a turn towards seriousness.

Rating: C+

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© 1998 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.