Chicago blues group rocks George’s

Sugar Ray & the Bluetones brings a variety of styles and influences.

Passionate, hard-swinging blues musician Sugar Ray and his backing band, The Bluetones, gave a memorable performance filled with raunchy harmonica solos, slick guitar and piano work, and a grooving bass. The musicians brought to the stage a set of tunes with a classic blues feel, suggesting that the era in George’s Roadhouse Saturday night was late ’40s or early ’50s, rather than 2015.

The talented Blues veteran “Sugar” Ray Norcia and his Bluetones group were brought to Sackville by the Tantramarsh Blues Society to showcase their exceptional talents. Over the course of the night, the group played a number of covers interspersed with their own original songs. All the songs were played with the distinctive originality of band leader Sugar Ray, who supplied vocals and harmonica, and his equally talented band members “Monster” Mike Welch on guitar, Anthony Geraci on piano, Michael “Mudcat” Ward on bass and Neil Gouvin on drums.

In particular, the band played many songs from their newest album Living Tear to Tear, which contains six original songs and six covers. The expressive players had no problem giving the well-known standards the type of earnestness required, and Ray’s obvious awareness of the influence that jazz had on early R&B impacted the group’s performance.

The stylistically diverse group showcased a range of musical styles including Chicago blues, Texas shuffle, Memphis soul, Kansas City swing, and R&B. The band’s original songs were more distinct, however their classic style still retained vintage elements of the covers that came before. Nonetheless, the band incorporated a few unique touches in the lyrics and music which kept the audience on their toes and enjoying themselves.

The opening song of the night, “Rat Trap,” began with Norcia’s rollicking harmonica, giving the audience full appreciation of his skill with the instrument. The rocking song set the tone for the rest of the evening, with Geraci pounding on the keys while Ward and Gouvin provided the steady foundation over which Welch and Norcia layered solos.

For obvious reasons, Norcia’s talented vocals and harmonica were the highlight of the evening. His smooth, crooning voice took the spotlight during songs like “I Dreamed Last Night” (an old Justin Hayward tune) and other similar ballads. Meanwhile, during the more upbeat songs, Norcia let loose the true power of his vocals and harmonica adding a level of grittiness to the performance.

However, Norcia was far from the only star of the show. Perhaps one of the most significant moments of the night was when Geraci soloed on piano for almost an entire song. His quick fingers kept the beat going and the audience dancing while the other band members took a break.

All of the other talented band members were given equal time to shine, and possibly the band’s greatest strength was the way The Bluetones were almost perfectly balanced throughout the entire evening. Even during the upbeat numbers, Norcia never sounded overdriven. Meanwhile, the rest of the band supported Norcia from the background while remaining distinctive. The group pushed their songs and skills, knowing exactly when to pull back, causing shivers of appreciation to run through the crowd.

Sugar Ray & The Bluetones have been playing their unique style of blues around the world for almost forty years. The five-piece Chicago style blues band have performed internationally at clubs and festivals, and recently received five 2012 Blues Music Awards from the Blues Foundation in Memphis.

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