“We approached this one like Hank Williams made records,” says Norcia about the sessions. “I went in with my lyrics, just rough sketches of the songs and the great musicians in the Bluetones, who always play something exciting. This album’s mostly original and in the Chicago blues vein. Last time, I used a full horn section, so My Life, My Friends, My Music was more jump blues-oriented. For this one, I wanted to keep things spare and gritty.”
True to his word, Sugar Ray and the band keep things direct and sizzling on the new CD’s dozen songs, including nine originals, plus covers of Johnny Young’s “I’m Having a Ball” (the blazing opener), Otis Rush’s “You Know My Love” and the title track, which has been recorded by T-Bone Walker and Jimmy Rushing, among others.
Evening also demonstrates Norcia’s penchant for writing songs that hit the gut on a visceral level, while at the same time keeping things loose and in a party atmosphere. “I aim to sing numbers that have good melodies and arrangements and entertain people,” he explains. “Part of that is writing lyrics that might make them smile. My dad, who was a great entertainer, would play unbelievable harmonica, sing and be the life of the party. I always aspire to that.”
A good illustration of that technique can be found in his “Too Many Rules and Regulations,” a song that would have been right at home being sung by Sonny Boy Williamson.
The Bluetones are seasoned veterans, one and all. “Monster” Mike Welch has been a perennial blues guitar hero since his early teens, and he acquits himself more than ably on the new album with some fantastic guitar work, all the while playing with expert feel and passion. Pianist Anthony Geraci handles the ivories in tones that recall such greats as Otis Spann and Pinetop Perkins. The rhythm section of Michael “Mudcat” Ward on bass and Neil Gouvin on drums form the perfect in-the-pocket tandem, creating solid rhythms on which to build the lead instruments.
As with any Sugar Ray CD, Evening showcases Norcia’s fluid, expressive harmonica work. “I’ve always considered my voice to be my main instrument,” Norcia states. 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.”
“Roomful” - of course – was the seminal blues and R&B band, Roomful of Blues, where Norcia spent seven years recording five albums, including 1996’s Turn It On, Turn It Up, which received a “Best Traditional Blues Album” Grammy Award nomination. He also received a Grammy nomination for his 1999 collaboration with fellow blues harmonica masters James Cotton, Charlie Musselwhite and Billy Branch, titled Superharps.
Originally from Connecticut, Sugar Ray Norcia has been based in Rhode Island for many years. Having formed his first group in high school, Norcia’s career really kicked into high gear in 1979 when he formed the original Sugar Ray & the Bluetones band, which included legendary guitarist Ronnie Earl. Since then, he’s appeared on over 50 albums, including his work with the Bluetones and Roomful, plus others with Duke Robillard, Ronnie Earl, Ann Peebles, Pinetop Perkins, Big Walter Horton and Otis Grand. During his turn with the first Bluetones lineup, the band also backed such great as Big Joe Turner, J.B. Hutto, and Roosevelt Sykes. “Hubert Sumlin and Ted Harvey were actually members of the Bluetones for a while,” he remembers.
Sugar Ray & the Bluetones will tour throughout North America in support of Evening. For more information, visit www.sugarrayandthebluestones.com as well as
SUGAR RAY & THE BLUETONES ITINERARY
9/3 Chan’s Woonsocket, RI
9/15 Lozano’s Grill Stockton, CA
9/16 Biscuits & Blues San Francisco, CA
9/17 Delta Blues Festival Antioch, CA
9/18 Moe’s Alley Santa Cruz, CA
9/22 The Triad New York, NY
10/8 Knickerbocker Café Westerly, RI