After 35 years together, Sugar Ray and the Bluetones are a band with a consciousness of it’s own. The players are together and in synch. Even the most junior member has spent 16 years with the band; Monster Mike Welch at 37 is the youngest band member but has recorded with Sugar Ray for over a decade and a half now. This is a formidable band and may be one of the finest in the world top to bottom!
Sugar Ray handles vocals and harp and Welch handles the guitar work. Anthony Geraci is on keyboards (piano and Hammond organ), Michael Mudcat Ward is on bass and Neil Gouvin is on drums. Recorded in the Keep the Edge Studio in Quincy, MA, the Bluetones have released one of the years finest blues albums of 2016. One cover and 11 original tracks are featured here.
“Sweet Baby” opens the set and Sugar Ray is the big blues shouter here with a big distorted vocal sound as he sings through his harp microphone. A slower to medium tempo blues, Welch offers a huge guitar solo with Geraci filling in beautifully on the piano. When I first listened I thought that if the rest of the album was half this good it would be amazing. Norcia comes in for a greasy harp solo and makes the cut even better. Then the title track slows things down with a sultry and sexy sort of sound. Norcia’s vocals and Welch’s guitar trade licks beautifully and then Welch offers up a hugely soulful guitar solo; so well done! “Noontime Bell” is next up in the queue and Norcia croons some slow blues about his woman leaving him despite his best protests.
Another nice harp solo is offered up and after the second chorus Geraci gives us a super piano solo. “Keep On Sailing” features Norcia doing half the song solo on vocals and harp as he testifies to us. Then Welch and the band enter and the song builds into something completely different. Nicely done. Jump blues is next with “Blind Date.” Sugar Ray blows some mean harp for us with the band in full throttle support. Norcia belts out the vocals after the intro and they continue the high energy charge. Welch also delivers a high powered solo and they finish up with a final chorus and surge to a finish. Welch emulates BB King’s tone in King’s great “You Know I Love You.” He turns it into a fantastic and giant instrumental that is a savory and touching tribute.
“Misses Blues” has Norcia singing about all the things he’s missed in his life but he asks his girl to say she missed him “because it’s you I can’t resist!” Nice harp work in the slower blues and some cool lyrics make this fun. Norcia then goes into the full harp attack mode with “It Ain’t Funny” and he and the band do a big and full sounding slow blues. Norcia emotes as he delivers his vocals; Geraci is first with a big solo, then we have a chorus and a huge harp solo followed immediately by a huge guitar solo. Norcia closes things out with a final chorus and then takes us home with some more huge harp. “Not Me” is a blues ballad that Norcia sweetly belts out as he longs for the woman who left him. He offers an equally soulful harp solo for us as Geraci and Welch fill in with restraint to add to the mood.
“Got a Gal” picks things up the pace a little and they give another big guitar and then harp solo. More cool slow blues is next with “Two Hundred Dollars Too Long” where Norcia mourns first about a bar tab and then a parimutuel outing that both lasted two hundred bucks too long. A dirty harp solo with some nasty guitar licks goes on for many a measure and Norcia closes with the hope that his life is not remembered by old Ray hanging around for 200 dollars too long. Lots of fun here for sure! They conclude with “It’s Been A Long Time,” some straight dirty blues with a mid temp groove. They do a great instrumental mid song as harp, guitar, and piano showcase the three players.
These guys have been nominated for a host of BMAs in the last couple of years for their 2014 CD and their overall work, and Geraci and Welch also received accolades for their own 2015 CD, too. This is a powerful group of musicians with a great backline that can hold their own with any band. Big, greasy and tasty blues from Boston that serves the blues world notice and will surely garner them more award nominations!