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Sugar Ray Norcia & The Bluetones
My Life, My Friends, My Music
Severn Records

Run Time: 60:46

Sugar Ray has been fronting blues bands on the East Coast since the late 70s with prowess and clarity. His harmonica playing has earned him accolades in many circles, putting him in with the likes of legends from long before he started his career. Norcia’s love of all kinds of music culminates in this 2007 Severn release My Life, My Friends, My Music uniting him with two phenomenal guitar players, a handful of Roomful of Blues alumni, and his ever-returning cast of award-winning musicians. This all wraps up into a Song of the Year BMA nomination for Norcia (as well as Album of the Year) and some fine pieces of a lasting legacy for long-time late original Roomful of Blues trumpeter Bob Enos.

Norcia and Company take no time getting into the swing of things with the Louis Prima classic “Oh Babe,” with the pulsating horns of Enos, Doug “Mr. Low” James (baritone sax), Greg Piccolo (tenor sax), Carl Querferth (trombone), and the fat acoustic bass of BMA-nominated Michael “Mudcat” Ward.

Norcia then strolls down the forties and fifties lane, exercising us in the arts of witty lyricism and swinging style of the jump blues masters with “Little Talking Frog.” Norcia shows us why he’s one of the best singers on the East Coast with a cover of New Orleans Legendary songwriter Dave Bartholomew’s “I Want To Be With Her.” The song conjures a feeling of early 50s Memphis and Johnny Ace.

Tracks 5-11 in which new, but not so new guitarist Monster Mike Welch shows us how far he’s come in recent years for command of his instrument. He stands almost a head above in style and composition than the legendary Duke Robillard, who guest on the 8 other tracks on the disc. Mike’s fills and acoustic playing hold their own with Norcia’s powerful vocals and exquisite harmonica playing on these seven tracks. On the Roomful of Blues-sounding “Shut Your Face,” the horns come front and center for their largest romp and colorful showing on the disc. Just listen to the long foghorn blow on the trombone of Querferth’s trombone and the searing solo of the late Bob Enos and you’ll understand what I mean. All of this held together from bursting at the seams by the punctuated guitar of Welch.

Norcia then turns around on the seventh cut of the CD, taking us to Sonny Boy Williamson II’s “I Don’t Know” (not the Willie Mabon song) and shows us that he can imitate Williamson’s style and add to it with some of the finest acoustic harp on the set. Norcia brings us all to the hear and now with the duet of just him and Welch singing about the current state of world affairs on “No Sorrow No More,” that’s neither trite or overly political but a solid statement of how things could be better if we’d all listen once in awhile.

“The Last Words of A Fool,” the premium cut for the BMAs this year, spins us a tale from Norica’s always-relevant pen about situations of good intentions filled with our own hubris that ultimately become our demise. In other words, Norcia’s telling us that the road to hell is paved with good intentions and egos. The arrangement is as always tight but doesn’t seem to stand out to some of the more peerless productions for the musicianship that accompany the tracks on the disc. However, if you were to base the award solely on the songwriting, then this would be a very adequate candidate.

Norcia also shows us his penchant for years gone by with the Doo Wop sounding number “Oh, Oh, Oh Pretty Baby.” Norcia takes us to Chicago with harp musings reminiscent of that fifties era from which the next song springs, Big Maceo Merriweather’s “Do You Remember?” where long-time bandmate Anthony Geraci holds down Maceo’s role on piano.

Duke Robillard returns to the guitar chair on the final four tracks on the album, where the pace and the quality seems to slow down and plod along. Norcia’s vocals are up to the jazz stylings that Robillard brings to the table, especially with the torch song sounding “Think It Over Again” and “My Last Affair” (in which the two duet with Norcia on vocals and just Robillard on guitar). The raunchy jump blues sounding “I Like My Baby’s Pudding” is full of gall, raunch, and sexual innuendo from the era that it hearkens to. However, “Affari” and the Sinatra-esque “Until the Real Thing Comes Along” do not deliver the knock out punch but slowly lull you off to sleep.

Norcia can command any style vocally and the album demonstrates that in all equal parts as well as showing his songwriting skill and ample harmonica playing. It has a few hits and misses. If you like horn sections and miss the days of jump blues/brassy jazz than this disc is for you. If you are a Welch, Robillard, or Roomful of Blues fan than this disc is well worth your money, too. Plus, it has some of the last recorded work of Bob Enos which is equally important to any Roomful fan. I wouldn’t call it an album of the year but it’s pretty darn close. This CD is available from all major record outlets.

Reviewer Ben Cox is a Blues Songwriter, Musician, DJ and Journalist.

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