Sugar Ray and the Bluetones

Sugar Ray and the Bluetones
My Life, My Friends, My Music

Severn Records CD 0042

By Karen Nugent
March 2008

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Itís been a lot of years since Sugar Ray and the Bluetones were the house band at the old Speakeasy in Central Square. But Rhode Island native Sugar Ray Norcia and his bands have always been a bright spot on the New England blues scene, even at its low point in the 1980s.

And theyíre still doiní it.

Besides his own band, which backed blues greats such as Big Walter Horton, Hubert Sumlin, Eddie Shaw, and J.B. Hutto, Norcia was the front man for Roomful of Blues, another New England blues institution, from 1991-1997.

On this latest disc, Sugar Rayís fourth on Severn Records, the band is joined by several Roomful alumni guests, including, sadly, Bob Enos, the well-known trumpet player who died of a heart attack in January, while on tour.

Other Roomful guests include the incomparable Duke Robillard - who splits the guitar playing with Monster Mike Welch, a former member of the Bluetones; Greg Piccolo on tenor sax, Doug “Mr. Low” James on baritone, and Carl Querfurth on trombone.

The back-up Bluetones on the record are the same guys who have been with Norcia since those early years: the illustrious Michael “Mudcat” Ward on standup bass (Ward is a Blues Music Award nominee this year,) Neil Gouvin on drums, and Anthony Geraci doing a bang-up job on piano.

Full disclosure: Iím not wild about horns, and I know itís probably a minority opinion.

Nevertheless, I was pleased when about a third of the way through this disc, Norcia loses the horn section for four or five songs and switches to what he does best: play that blues harp.

The record is correctly billed as a mix of jump and Chicago blues, with seven of the 15 songs written by Norcia. Heís included classics by Sonny Boy Williamson (“I Donít Know” one of my favorite songs on the CD,) Louie Prima (“Oh, Babe” the opening track,) and Dave Bartholomew (“I Want To Be With You.”)

One of the best songs on the disc is Norciaís “The Last Words of a Fool,” a nice shuffle with some damn funny lyrics. The last words of said fools are: “Hey, man watch this!” and include dumb stunts like pulling a wheelie on a bike (Do kids still say that?) and going over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

“Little Green Talking Frog,” an original, is a fun parable about, yes, a real, advice- spewing amphibian. It turns out Norcia prefers the frogís bossy dialogue to a pain-in-the-neck romance.

Dave Bartholomewís “I Want To Be With Her,” a slow big-band era song, has so many horns it could have been the on the old Jackie Gleason show - replacing the Sammy Spear Orchestra. Ditto for “You Better Change Your Ways.”

“Money Taking Mama,” another fine blues shuffle brings the harmonica back into the disc, with Geraci sounding terrific on piano, along with some great guitar pickiní.

Thatís followed by “Shut Your Face,” an up-tempo blues number with great guitar, although there are horns here, and thatís OK. Theyíre pretty good.

“No Sorrow No More” is a sad, country-Delta style lament about the war, written by Norcia.

“Oh, Oh, Oh, Pretty Baby” gives a nod to doo-wap; “Do You Remember” swings back to the blues side of the street, as does “Think It Over Again,” with a little New Orleans-style jazz thrown in. “I Like My Babyís Pudding” is pure jump, “My Last Affair” is a slow torch, and “Until the Real Thing Comes Along” brings it back to Gleasonís big band days.

Needless to say, thereís something on here for everyone, with the constant being Norciaís wonderfully lush voice and his fierce harp.

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