Guitarist Little Charlie Baty and harmonica player / vocalist Rick Estrin have been playing their version of West Coast jump blues for over 25 years now. Both have are proficient players with strong stage presence and the ability to connect immediately to their audience with humorous, irreverent blue songs about the human condition, particularly dealing with relationships. They stopped by the small but crowded room at Mugzee's for the first time, touring in support of their recently released CD, That's Big. Though they seldom play small clubs anymore, the enthusiasm and energy of the crowd and the band worked off each other to create a special night of blues.
Little Charlie's strong, expressive guitar playing, Rick's fluid, powerful harp, and Rick's strong vocals all were apparent as they worked their way through familiar songs like "Wrap It Up," "Dump That Chump," "My Next Ex-wife," and "I Love It When You Walk Away." Rick kept up a running dialog with the audience, getting them into singing the refrain on many of these familiar songs. At one point Rick commented "We're organized with complete abandon." Rick stands as one of the great blues songwriters of out time. Coupled with their natty clothes, hip delivery, and bright smiles, these guys have to be the most hip blues band playing today.
The visual spectacle is what makes a Little Charlie show one not to miss. Rick giving a long, riveting harp solo ending by playing without any hands. Little Charlie's soulful to stinging guitar licks as he moves back and forth on the side of the stage. Bass player Frankie Randall playing his stand-up bass behind his head or on it's side, and new drummer Jay Hansen, only with the band a few days, keeping steady rhythm in the background. Rick and Little Charlie seem to have real respect for and play smoothly off each other, which carries over to the rest of the band.
Two songs from the new CD fit smoothly into their older material. "That's Big," the title song, celebrates the benefits of big women, which seems to have been a theme of the band over the years. "I'm Just Living Good" is mid-tempo blues with some great, slow, piercing guitar licks by Little Charlie.
Having seen many special shows at Mugzee's, I've become used to pleasant surprises that musicians pull out here I've never seen them do elsewhere. This night was no exception. After a great, long, soulful guitar intro into "Been So Many Sad, Sad Years," Little Charlie set down his guitar in the middle of the song to visit the restroom. Rick put down his harp, picked up Little Charlie's guitar, and began picking chords on this slow blues grinder. Returning to the stage, Little Charlie went to Rick's harp rack, selected one, and began blowing some very smooth harp. Even the encore was special, with just Rick on harp and vocals backed by Frankie on bass giving a passionate performance of "Steady Rolling Man." Little Charlie and the Nightcats also performed at Famous Dave's on April 5th.
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This review is copyright © 2002 by Rich Benson, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission.
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