Ray & the Bluetones
Records), the new CD from veteran New England blues
cats Sugar Ray & the Bluetones, is rapidly
moving up my list of favorite discs from 2011. The
fact that it comes from Severn Records is not
surprising considering the Maryland-based label is
becoming what Black Top Records was in the '90s ---
a producer of consistently high quality blues
recordings from a variety of acts both young and
This album is quite simply an
exemplary collection of blue collar blues from a
top-notch band led by singer/harmonica player Sugar
Ray Norcia. Sugar Ray is a fine harmonica, but
what's even more impressive is his vocal work
throughout the disc. He's matured into a strong,
bluesy vocalist who combines his raspy, soulful
blues with the power of jump blues chops à la Smiley
Lewis, with a little of the classic Muddy Waters
growl mixed in.
The Bluetones consists of
"Monster" Mike Welch on guitar, Michael "Mudcat"
Ward on bass, Neil Gouvin on drums, and Anthony
Geraci on piano. Welch first burst on the scene as a
precocious teen more than a dozen years ago and as
an adult continues to earn his nickname --- the man
is truly a "monster" on guitar.
Sugar Ray sets the proper tone
with the first cut, the Johnny Young original "I'm
Having A Ball," an up-tempo shuffle with all of the
instrumentalists getting a chance to show off,
especially guitarist Welch.
"You Know My Love" sounds like
it could have come from the Magic Sam songbook, but
was written by Willie Dixon and done by Otis Rush.
Welch continues to amaze with his tasteful guitar
licks behind Sugar Ray's soaring vocals.
Sugar Ray wrote eight of the
dozen songs here, with one of his best originals
being the basic mid-tempo blues shuffle "I Like What
You Got" on which he stars with both echo-y vocals
A favorite is the brilliant,
dirge-like blues narrative "Too Many Rules And
Regulations," on which Sugar Ray authentically
sounds like an 80-year-old blues man. This
song is proof that the blues is still around in our
modern society, with Sugar Ray's tales high
cholesterol counts from eating too many
cheeseburgers, parking restrictions, flu epidemics,
and the evils of hard drinking. For example, Sugar
Ray sings, " ... I was also reading about the evils
of hard drinking, I'm just going to have to give up
reading, I'm thinking, because there's too many
rules and regulations ..."
The next cut opens with
ethereal Native American flute, making the listener
sit up and say "wtf?" before Sugar Ray and the band
jump into the mid-tempo blues shuffle "Dancing Bear
(Little Indian Boy)." Welch turns in a nice blues
guitar solo midway through the cut.
The title cut is a jazzy, late
night blues with tasty piano accompaniment from
Geraci and Sugar Ray's eerie chromatic harmonica.
Norcia then takes it back down south with a Slim
Harpo-sounding harmonica intro to his own "I Came
Down With The Blues," which features still another
red hot blues guitar instrumental break from Welch.
The slow blues "(That's Not
Yet) One Of My Blues," an original from bassist
Ward, just might be the best cut on the disc. It
certainly grew on me the more I listened to it. But
then Sugar Ray comes in with the jump blues of "I'm
Certain That I'm Hurting," one that would fit into
any 1950s-era radio playlist. Man, is this one ever
hot, hot, hot! I could easily visualize Big Joe
Turner shouting out the blues on this one if the big
man was still around.
Evening comes to a
subtle close with a nice, jazzy instrumental number,
"XO." Well, it's not a true instrumental in that
Sugar Ray shouts out encouragement to his band
members towards the end of the song. Regardless,
it's a nice mellow nightcap to an evening of high
I just can't stop listening to
Evening. Get it when you can --- you won't