“Norcia’s elegant, emotive voice is his calling card, since truly fine blues vocalists are hard to find these days.” — The Boston Phoenix
Compared to a modern day version of Buddy Guy & Junior Wells, Sugar Ray Norcia and “Monster” Mike Welch boast impressive resumes with Ray fronting Roomful of Blues for almost seven years and Mike landing a recording contract with Tone Cool at age fifteen. Along with the dynamic rhythm section of bassist Michael Mudcat Ward and drummer Neil Gouvin, this fabulous quartet delivers thirteen songs that showcase the bands signature brand of hard-driving blues complete with scorching guitar, bold harmonica and an impressive performance from one of today’s premier vocalists.
“Mike and I work well together,” says the two-time GRAMMY nominated Norcia. “We were having so much fun performing that we were ready to get in the studio and cut this record.” Mike agrees stating, “There is an undeniable chemistry and we wanted to capture that sound live. I think we’ve done that here. It’s the closest to a live recording that I’ve ever done.”
“It reminds me of the days when I was with Ronnie Earl—Mike’s intensity and dynamics really grab my soul. He plays straight ahead blues and brings new excitement to my playing and to the band,” notes Ray.
“I Believe,” one of the five songs written by Welch, ignites the flame sparked by the then 23-year-old guitarist, and that enthusiasm continues to blaze in numbers like “Love and Trouble,” another Welch original, and “Tell Me What’s Going On,” a shuffle written by Norcia which sounds as if it came straight from the vaults of Chess Records.
A variety of influences shape the Bluetones sound and homage is paid to many of the blues masters. Howlin’ Wolf gets the nod on the powerful “Tomorrow Morning,” with former Bluetone Anthony Geraci sitting in on piano, while “Why the Sun Sets Red & Low,” with lyrics penned by Ward’s son Clay, is upbeat with a quick-paced Cajun feel. Welch pays tribute to his long-time hero Albert King on the instrumental “Funk-Shun,” where an unexpected harp solo gives a new twist to the legend’s original version. And the spirit of T-Bone Walker is recalled on Mike’s “I Asked My Baby.”
“The thing that impresses me most about this CD is they way it runs the full range of emotional expression,” notes Mike. From Ray’s joyous rendition of the classic “And the Angels Sing,” to the lazy country style of “Feeling Blue” and the darker side of Mudcat’s “Burial Season,” there’s depth and breadth to this release not found on other Bluetone recordings. “There are interesting songs here – not just songs about typical themes found in a lot of today’s Blues. Rather songs that acknowledge the times we’re living in,” Mike adds. “It’s really who we are,” agrees Ray.
Norcia and Welch joined forces in the spring of 2001 when Mike stepped in to replace departing Bluetone, Kid Bangham. “I hadn’t really heard Mike play until just before he came aboard,” remembers Ray. “Mudcat and Neil suggested I go hear him and when I did, it was like, ‘Wow!'” A self-proclaimed Bluetones fan for years, it didn’t take much encouragement for the young guitarist to join the band.
Mike is just as pleased about his roll as the newest Bluetone, “Ray is a huge inspiration. He’s just right on every note. I’m having a great time.” And no one is happier than Ray, “It’s a match!”
Thank you: Donna, Patty and Jesse, Louise Norcia, The Niedbala family, Mike Clinton and The Music Depot, Kenny Blues, Ronnie “O”, Steve Legensky and Jean Mara, Bonnie, Clay, Holly Harris (WBOS), David Maxwell, Simone Hnilicka, Simon Reid (Magnitones), Jeannette Ocampo Welch, The Welch family, Brad Hallen, Warren Grant, Jack Hamilton, George Lewis, Ron Auclair, Jake and Earl’s, Darrell Nulisch, Steve Hart, Barrie Anderson, David Hull, Cara Hogan at Epiphone, James Cotton, Duke Robillard, Ronnie Earl, Patrick and Cathy Day and all the folks at Severn Records, especially Joan Matthews.
“Burial Season” dedicated to Mai Cramer and Virginia McGrath.
Sugar Ray Norcia: Harmonica and Vocals
Monster Mike Welch: Guitars
Michael Mudcat Ward: Acoustic and Electric Bass
Neil Gouvin: Drums
Special Guest: Anthony Geraci – Piano and Hammond organ
Sugar Ray uses Hohner Harmonicas.
Monster Mike Welch plays a blue Strat and Epiphone Guitars.
Produced by: Sugar Ray & the Bluetones and David Earl
Recorded and mixed by Chris Rival, My Generation Somerville, MA
Mastered by Charlie Pilzer at Airshow mastering Springfield, VA
Graphic Design: Steve Potter and David Earl
Sketches: Elaine Mills
Tracks 1, 2, 4, 9 and 12 administered by Bug Music.