Severn has just issued the latest from Sugar Ray & the Bluetones, Evening. The latest from the veteran New England band featuring the vocals and harmonica of Ray Norcia, the piano of Anthony Geraci,and the guitar of Monster Mike Welch tackles a typical range of Chicago and modern urban blues which are played in a traditionally rooted, but fresh approach. Michael 'Mudcat' Ward's bass and Neil Gouvin's drums fill out the solid rhythm section for the Blue Tones,
I have been a fan of Norcia since when I saw him in 1978 backing J.B. Hutto in New York City (when Ronnie Earl was still with him), and since enjoyed his stint with Roomful of Blues in addition to his strong body of recordings, this new release brings together a few choice interpretations of less covered blues with idiomatic blues originals that thankfully show little, if any, blues-rock tinges.
This set kicks off with Johnny Young's I Having a Ball, with Norcia blasting out some harp and then belting out an ebullient vocal that captures the spirit of Young's original; as Geraci pounds away at the keys and Welch suggests the brilliance of the late Sammy Lawhorn with his accompanying riffs and single note runs. Welch contributed the slow blues Hard To Get Along, as Norcia sings about needing to get better than he is in a performance that evokes the classic Chess sound before they cover Otis Rush's Checker recording You Know My Love, which was based on Rush's Cobra recording My Love Will Never Die. It takes a fair amount of bravado to cover Rush, and Norcia able handles the vocal while Welch rips off strong guitar that recalls Rush.
The mood changes with the lazy groove of Dear John. Sugar Ray’s harp here shows a touch of Walter Horton's influence as Sugar Ray laments his women leaving for his brother John. Sugar Ray celebrates his woman on I Like What You Got, followed by the “talking blues vocal of Too Many Rules and Regulations, as Geraci channeling Otis Spann and Welch adds scintillating fills behind Sugar Ray's talking vocal. Dancing Bear (Little Indian Boy), opens with Norcia playing a native American Flute, before delivering a lyric singing about a proud Indian boy. It is followed by a nice rendition of the standard Evening, made famous by Jimmy Rushing and T-Bone Walker. Geraci is outstanding on piano and organ, while Welch rips off a hot solo.
The harp at the very beginning of I Came Down With The Blues suggests Slim Harpo before Sugar Ray eases into a more Sonny Boy Williamson II vein. I'm Certain That I'm Hurting, is a lively shuffle with Sugar Ray is hurting about his girl's flirting. The closing, slow instrumental XO, allows Sugar ray to demonstrate his fluid attack and strong tone. There are a couple songs on which the lyrics are not be as strong as the superb playing by the Bluetones, but they consistently nail the performances here. I previously mentioned the contributions of the soloists the contributions of bassist Ward and drummer Gouvin, who (with Geraci) provide the solid, swinging foundation here, merit commendation. Evening is another first-rate effort from Sugar Ray & the Bluetones.