Sugar Ray and The Bluetones
In 1977, blues harp man Ray Norcia was working as Sugar Ray & the Blues Stompers in Rhode Island at the same time Ronnie Earl had replaced Ron Levy in the John Nicholas band, The Rhythm Rockers, featuring Kaz Kazanoff (tenor sax and harp), Sarah Brown (Fender bass) and Terry Bingham (drums). When John Nicholas and drummer Fran Christina left for Texas to join Asleep At the Wheel, Ronnie Earl decided to form the band the Hound Dogs, with Mark Cedrone (harp and vocals), Michael "Mudcat" Ward and Brother Charles Robinson on drums. Ronnie and "Mudcat" later searched for other musicians that would give them a different blues sound. They team up with Neil Gouvin a seasoned blues drummer from southern New England, giving them the sought after sound they were looking for, creating the new band addition to their existing band The Dueces. Following the suggestion of Gouvin to add a lead singer/harp player, Sugar Ray Norcia joined the group. After signing Little Anthony Geraci on piano, they changed their name to Sugar Ray & the Bluetones. Many personnel changes continued over the years leading up to the current lineup of "Monster" Mike Welch on guitar, Neil Gouvin on drums, Michael "Mudcat" Ward on bass, Anthony Geraci on piano, and lead singer/harp player Sugar Ray Norcia.
Their latest CD, Evening, once again showcases the superb harp work and vocals of Sugar Ray. He states "I've always considered my voice to be my main instrument," But I truly love playing harmonica, and the fact that I could only play one or two harp tunes when I was with Roomful was one of the things that led me to move on." The CD is their 5th album for Severn Records. Their last release in 2007 was My Life, My Friend, My Music which created a full jump blues sound and using a horn section. This release, Evening, is a basic Chicago blues sound including only the band members. The CD opens with the Johnny Young tune "I’m having a Ball." Other covers include Willie Dixon’s "You Know My Love" recorded by Otis Rush and the title track "Evening" which had been recorded earlier by T-Bone Walker. He shares center stage throughout the entire CD with Welch spotlighted on explosive guitar solos and Geraci adding his masterful keyboard solos. The remaining 9 tracks are written by Norcia, Welch, and Ward. The CD is composed of a variety of blues including the slow blues tunes "Hard To Get Along With You," "(That's Not Yet) One Of My Blues," "XO" and "Dear John." Sugar Ray also includes two very creative songs offering good advice with "Too Many Rules and Regulations" and incorporating the use of a Native American flute on "Dancing Bear." "I Came Down With The Blues" and "I'm Certain That I'm Hurting" will rock you from your head to your toes.
Evening is a blues masterpiece and a definite addition to a blues fan's library! Listening to this latest CD from Sugar Ray and The Bluestones is time well spent.
Reviewed by Rick Davis