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Sugar Ray: Sweet & Swingin'

Ed Kopp By

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Sorry, but I just can't resist yet another review of another CD by another former member of Roomful of Blues. Some of you might reasonably conclude that I work for Roomful in some capacity. Not only do I NOT work for ROB, I have never received a single free item from any present or former member of the band — not even a damn cassette. Fact is, I'm addicted to the music these guys generate.

Sugar Ray Norcia recently left the itinerant Providence-based blues band to pursue a solo career and to spend a little more time with his wife. Norcia is a gifted singer and harmonica player who helped Roomful achieve unprecedented levels of popularity and critical acclaim over the last six years. His solo debut is a smooth blend of styles, from blues to pop to R&B.

About half the songs on this CD remind me of those small blues combos that Charles Brown and Amos Milburn led in the '40s and '50s. It's cool piano-based blues with a jazzy, late-night vibe.

Pianist Matt McCabe deserves a lot of credit here. The Roomful pianist handles much of the comping and many of the solos on the slow blues tunes. His playing is smooth and tasteful, two adjectives that also describe Norcia's singing.

The Jordanaires, the quartet that backed Elvis Presley on so many albums, add their vocal stylings to Arthur Alexander's "You Better Move On" and Lonnie Johnson's "Tomorrow Night," which sounds like an Elvis ballad. "It's a Low Down Dirty Shame" is a blues swinger featuring tenor and baritone saxophones and a cool guitar solo from Kid Bangham, who also shines on "Love, Life and Money," a blues tune in a minor key. Big Walter's "Need My Baby" is pure Chicago Blues and it features Sugar Ray's tasty harmonica, while Norcia gives the Charles Brown treatment to Hank Williams' "My Sweet Love Ain't Around," "Jack She's On the Ball," and "Lost Mind."

Ray Norcia is a great blues crooner who functions just as capably in this small group format as he did fronting Roomful's superb horn section.


Title: Sweet & Swingin' | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: Bullseye Records

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