Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The titular leader of Little Charlie and the Nightcats is guitarist Charlie Baty, whose light touch and lexicon of licks owe jazz and Western swing as much as they do sweet home Chicago. The concept master, however, is front man Rick Estrin, who sings, does saxophone impressions on harmonica, and writes songs that are still gaining pizzazz 20 years after he and Baty joined up. The Nightcats' sixth and strongest album for Alligator, Straight Up!, will startle cynics convinced the white blues circuit is a refuge for know-nothings. On wise-ass novelties like You Gonna Lie and Me and My Big Mouth, Estrin's neoclassicist street smarts recall Willie Dixon and Leiber & Stoller. And on sharp-swinging workouts like I Could Deal With It and the witty instrumental Gerontology, this California boogie band rocks the house as if Louis Jordan were still on the hit parade.

I'm not going to claim the other great Memphis label is the equal of Stax-Volt. But I'll swear on a stack of barbecued ribs that Hi Times: The Hi Records R&B Years will give you more bang per disc than any of Stax's monster singles compendiums. True, 14 of the 66 tracks on this three-CD set are by Al Green, which may prove irritating when the supernal soul man gets his Rock & Roll Hall of Fame box. But over house producer Willie Mitchell's fat, sweet, jazz-inflected bottom, mortal singers like Ann Peebles Syl Johnson, Otis Clay, and O.V. Wright recorded music that deserved far better than the bottom of the black music charts. And now, finally, you can give them their propers.

Cute and shiny, its long nails red, Sleeper's Smart (Arista) is girlpop at its lustiest. When Louise Wener says Delicious, you hope her love bites don't draw too much blood. But you'll probably risk it.

Playboy, Apr. 1995

Mar. 1995 May 1995