New England boasts a rich blues history, and Rhode Island itself, may well become the hotbed of years past with this new release from Sugar Ray Norcia. Fronting the Bluetones, Norcia is back where he belongs on "Rockin' Sugar Daddy." The Bluetones have a long and storied history as well. Formed decades ago, it has featured, at one time or another, the talents of Ronnie Earl, Anthony Geraci, Ola Dixon, Peter 'HiFi' Ward, Sarah Brown, Kaz Kazanoff, and many others. Quick history overview; when Ronnie Earl left Sugar to replace Duke Robillard (following his departure from Roomful of Blues), a relative unknown stepped up in the form of Kid Bangham, and took over the guitar slot. At his side were the cream of New England's blues hierarchy; Mudcat Ward on bass, Anthony Geraci on piano and organ, Neil Gouvin on drums, and the testifying of Ray Norcia out front. It became apparent right fast, that 'Kid' was a force to be reckoned with. Touring relentlessly, recording sporadically, the Bluetones were the best around. Later, Ray departed for the frontline in Roomful and Kid went on to join the Fabulous Thunderbirds, while Mudcat, Anthony, and Neil, continued in different bands. Finally, back on familiar turf, Sugar Ray & the Bluetones can pick up where they left off, minus Anthony Geraci, who now resides in Vermont.
Simply put, this is blues... stripped-down, raw, emotional, and heartfelt. Kicking off the party with an Excello-styled original, "Rockin' Sugar Daddy," sets the table for more than fifty minutes of four-piece, gutbucket, in-your-face blues. Slim Harpo's "Got Love If You Want It," rumbles along making way for Mudcat Ward's disturbingly brilliant, "She's Blued and Broken." With a stumbling feel, it's the twisted and harrowing tale of a murderous wife who chalked up nine homicides, while the search for number ten continues. It just don't get no better than that! Norcia's "Call Me Lonesome" kicks forth with plenty of power, then Kid Bangham gets into the writing chair. Laced with heavy chromatic harp and Sugar's distinctive, powerful vocals, the slow and riveting "Room 531" will hold attention for sure. Another Norcia-penned gem comes in "The Picture," a drilling Chicago groove, with Ray laying down the law to a wrong-doin' woman, and steps aside for the classic, "It's My Life, Baby." At just shy of seven minutes, it's the longest track on the CD, but there's no showmanship or grandstanding; grit, sweat, harp, guitar, and a stellar rhythm section get the point across just fine, with dynamics at the fore. Little Walter's "Off The Wall" goes through a fierce workout with Norcia proving, once again, he's in a class with few others when it comes to taking on Jacobs' genius. "Lonesome Cabin," another Norcia cut, gets a Sonny Boy II treatment with plenty of rasping harmonica and top-shelf singing, as Bangham does some fine understated guitar playing. "Warm Hearted Woman" is a stomping Texas shuffle with the Kid laying down some great work, and the Louisiana-like ballad of "You Can't Be the One for Me" is stunning with everyone contributing to the outcome. Norcia took out the pen for "Low Down Lady," another Excello-laden track with great lyrics, and the disc closes out with Mudcat's "Walk Hand In Hand," a slow moving, churchy instrumental that features harp and piano (although uncredited, it could be Mudcat at the keys).
Norcia's return to fronting a small band is great news for blues fans, and "Rockin' Sugar Daddy" is a fine addition to Norcia's previous work. Stellar work by Mudcat and Gouvin, one of the finest rhythm sections anywhere, goes a long way in getting to the core of Sugar's big voice and juiced harp, and Kid Bangham puts on a clinic of tasteful and drilling guitar. This CD should raise quite a bit of interest for the Severn label, and they already have a great lineup of artists, including Darrell Nulisch, Big Joe Maher, Steve Guyger, and others. With Sugar Ray & the Bluetones stepping in and filling the void they left, New England fans, and many others, will once again get a taste of how it's done on the East Coast. www.severnrecords.com has plenty of information on the schedule of the Bluetones, and the growing roster of other excellent folks that Severn stands behind.
(Author's note: Kid Bangham has since left Sugar Ray to pursue other interests, but the talents of Mike Welch will be a welcome addition to the outfit.)
This review is copyright © 2001 by Craig Ruskey, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.
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