Monday, October 31, 2011

Sugar Ray & the Bluetones -- "Evening"

Sugar Ray & the Bluetones have been around as a group since 1979, and in that time they have made a bucketful of great music. Sugar Ray's last cd, 2007's "My Life, My Friends, My Music" was terrific, earning four nominations for Blues Music Awards. This time out, Sugar Ray is back with the Bluetones, which means it is chock full of great playing and great songs by great musicians having a ball. Sugar Ray Norcia leads on vocals and harmonica. "Monster" Mike Welch is filling the guitar chair. Michael "Mudcat" Ward is on bass and Neil Gouvin is on drums. Anthony Geraci is on piano. There are twelve songs here, including nine originals and three covers--and the originals are all terrific, especially Welch's "Hard To Get Along With" and Norcia's "I Like What You Got." The covers are "You Know My Love," written by Willie Dixon and known best by the great Otis Rush, and MItchell Parish & Harry White's "Evening," known best by T-Bone Walker or Jimmy Rushing, and Johnny Young's "I'm Having A Ball." My favorite song here is "I'm Certain That I'm Hurting," which has some hot guitar by Monster Mike, a great piano turn by Anthony Geraci AND cooking vocals and a harp solo by Sugar Ray.

Sugar Ray's vocals may be an acquired taste to some blues lovers, but after 20+ years I say "Let the man sing." Me, I enjoy the way Sugar Ray sings. His harmonica playing is relaxed and spot-on throughout. On this new disc, everything is tight and right, with a heaping dose of Sugar Ray's blues soul, but without even one second of anything stiff or old fashioned. A very welcome addition to the blues library.

This cd was released on Severn Records on October 18, and you can buy it at:

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Lil' Cliff & the Cliffhangers -- "The Lovin' Kind"

Lil' Cliff & the Cliffhangers are a harmonica-based blues & R&B band based in metro New York. They have been bringing their unique blend of blues/swing and R&B for over 20 years in New York & New Jersey. The band were International Blues Challenge finalists in 2006, and in 2008 they released their first cd, "God Bless Women," (Shankbone Records). This is their second disc. Members of the band are Lil' Cliff Bernard on harp and lead vocals, Richard Street on double bass and vocals, Dennis Phelps on guitar and vocals, and Frank Patterson on drums and vocals. Also playing on this disc are Manny Focarozza on keyboards, Jack Licitra on accordion on three tracks, Sweet Suzi Smith on backing vocals on three tracks, Tex Sax on saxophones on three tracks, and John Abbey who edited "Spank That Monkey." Eight of the fifteen tracks are originals, written by Lil' Cliff or Richard Street, and they are wonderful songs, complete with robust harmonies and stomping spiritual fervor. The covers are done in the Lil' Cliff style, and they are stand outs, jumping out of the speakers with high energy and joy--including a ripping harp workout on Big Walter Jacob's "Up The Line," a beautiful take of Doc Pomus' "Lonely Avenue," a take of Leiber & Stoller's "Three Cool Cats" with Richard Street on lead vocals, and a lively, joyful bass heavy take of Willie Dixon's "Twenty-Nine Way (To My Baby's Door)."

The playing is silky smooth, and the baritone vocals by Lil' Cliff take center stage by storm. The harmonies are a wonderful addition to the genre. With a few more releases and some promotion, these guys could be right up there with Roomful of Blues.
This disc will certainly help get them in that direction. It is a fun, energetic jump-style disc, a full step forward from "God Bless Women." Completely delightful.

You can buy this disc at

Monday, October 17, 2011

Shane Dwight -- "A Hundred White Lies"

Shane Dwight has made the best cd of his decade-long career. Writing and playing his way through a divorce at the Rock House Studio in Franklin TN with Kevin McKendree, Shane plays great guitar and sings better than I have ever heard him. Backed by Delbert McClinton's touring band--McKendree on keyboards, Rob McNelley on guitar, Lynn Williams on drums, Stephen Mackey on bass, along with the McCrary Sisters and Bekka Bramlett on exceptional background vocals. Shane wrote 11 of these twelve tracks, along with a rocking bluesy cover of the Dylan/Secor song "Wagon Wheel" that just might make you forget about the Old Crow Medicine Show's otherwise fine bluegrass version. The title track is in that wide and deep vibe of Moreland & Arbuckle or JJ & Mofro, and the rest of these songs will remind you of Keith Richards, The Faces, Leon Russell, Waylon Jennings, Albert Collins ..... do you get the idea that this disc pretty much blows me away? Everything here is smoking! My favorite song here is "True Love's Gone," which is a strong contender for Bruce's song of the year. "A Hundred White Lies" is the Saturday night companion to the Sunday morning disc by Mark T. Small that I reviewed last Saturday. Give it a listen and you'll know what I'm babbling about.

This cd is on R-Tist Records, and you can buy it at

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Mark T. Small -- "Blacks, Whites & The Blues"

This Mark T. Small cd is a small gem of acoustic guitar fire. If you are a fan of Mississippi John Hurt or Mississippi Fred McDowell, or the country music of Doc Watson or Leo Kottke, or any well-played acoustic guitar music this is musical nirvana.

Mark has been playing guitar for over 40 years. He started out in Massachusetts, playing fiddle tunes on the guitar in the styles of Doc Watson and Norman Blake, which led in 1981 to Mark joining a Newgrass Band called the Brown County Band. In the late 80s Mark started his own Chicago style blues band, The Lonesome Strangers, and they played the New England club circuit for over a dozen years. In 2000 Mark began to pursue a solo career, focusing on combining the fast clean flat picking bluegrass style and the soulful acoustic guitar blues music from the early 1900-1950s. This is Mark's third cd, after 2009's "Screamin’ & Cryin’ the Blues"(which hit # 19 on the National Living Blues Charts), and his 2007 self-titled debut disc.

This cd only one original Small song, "Boogie Woogie Guitar Man," but he sparkles as he plays a bounty of well-chosen covers, and plays them very well. The opener will sell you on the whole disc--Muddy Water's "Trouble No More" with a full-blooded guitar and a fabulous funky rhythm. Highlights include the Billy Smythe, Scott Middleton, Art Gillham "Hesitation Blues," the traditional song "Old Gray Mare," a beautiful presentation of Scott Joplin's "Solace," Mississippi Fred McDowell's "A Few More Lines" and a very nice acoustic take on Roy Hawkins & Rick Darnell's "The Thrill Is Gone." The entire cd is acoustic with one exception--an excellent cover of John Lee Hooker's "Bang Bang Bang Bang."

All in all, a very listener-friendly disc, chock full of beautiful guitar work. This is one of those "invite 'em" discs--play this cd for your friends who say they don't like blues. 45 minutes later you'll find a new blues fan.

This cd is an Indy release. You can buy this cd at I-Tunes.