Nine Lives

Back in the ’80s, when Sacramento-based Little Charlie and the Nightcats used to play in Chico several times a year, their fevered fans didn’t quite realize just how lucky they were. Guitarist Charlie Baty and harmonicist/vocalist Rick Estrin really ripped it up, Charlie channeling both T-Bone Walker and Charlie Christian on his Gibson hollow-body guitar and Rick laying into those Sonny Boy Williamson and Little Walter licks like there was no tomorrow. Far from being mere clones, however, they and their music continue to evolve and involve their fertile imaginations. Rick’s songs, for example, have the same poignant inventiveness that typified Sonny Boy Williamson’s, and Charlie, well. … Highlights here, their ninth album for Alligator, include “Handle with Care” (“it’s all right to nibble but please don’t bite”), on which they both unleash their heavy artillery; Charlie’s rave-up on “Tag (You’re It)”; Rick’s cheery work on his feature, “Wall to Wall,” and his elegant saga of “Cool Johnny Twist.” Since they’ve become world renowned, we’re lucky to see them once every few years, which means this CD will have to do until their next visit.