Sugar Ray and The Bluetones featuring Little Charlie
Too Far from the Bar
Sugar Ray Norcia formed the original Bluetones in 1979. They released their first full length album, “Knockout”, ten years later. This is the Bluetones eighth album for Severn Records and eleventh overall, their last being 2016’s “Seeing Is Believing”. The band has thirteen Blues Music Award nominations including three for “Band of the Year”.
The lineup on “Too Far from the Bar” includes the BMA winning Norcia, harmonica and vocals; Little Charlie Baty, guitar; Anthony Geraci, piano; Michael “Mudcat” Ward, bass; and Neil Gouvin, drums. The album is produced by guitarist Duke Robillard who also guests on four tracks. The liner notes are from both, Baty (who died unexpectedly this past March), and producer Robillard. Recorded before Baty’s untimely passing the album is dedicated to the memories of Floyd Lightnin’ Chance, and Mike Ledbetter.
Norcia states “Charlie and I seem to have been cut from the same cloth and musically we were like two peas in a pod. On this recording, we swing, we jump and we get low down. Sadly, I’ll miss my brother in the blues but his music will live forever”. Robillard adds “producing this album was extremely special for me, Sugar Ray and the boys, who I’ve known forever it seems, plus Little Charlie on guitar was obviously going to be a killer combination. Right from the first track it was in the groove. Ray and the guys had written some great material and Sugar pulled out a few obscure tunes that knocked me out. Helping pick takes and make suggestions was part of my job but the vibe and flow of the session made it smooth enough that I even jumped in for a few numbers! The band got to do a few tours with Charlie in the guitar seat and I was fortunate to do one of them on second guitar, these guys were so hot on this session they even set one of the multi-track tape machines on fire!” You better believe it when Baty says this is “Blues aged like a fine cognac”.
The fifteen tracks include nine originals; six written by Norcia. The fun title track features a great solo from Baty. The country styled “Too Little Too Late” includes Norcia’s sweet harp, a great piano solo from Geraci and Robillard joining Baty on guitar. The tape machine over-heated on the combustible instrumental “Reel Burner” which is so hot that the band includes an alternate take. “Numb and Dumb” features the lyric “yes, she’s got me under her thumb…I’m gonna’ keep drinkin’ until I’m numb and dumb”; and a great solo from Baty. “Walk Me Home” is another great piece of songwriting from Norcia.
Since their last album Ward has been the winner of 2018 and 2020 Blues Music Awards for “Bassist of The Year”. As a songwriter he contributes two fine songs “What I Put You Through”, and the hilarious narrative “The Night I Got Pulled Over”, both with some fine piano from Geraci, and Duke joining Baty for some jazzy guitar. Not to be outdone pianist Geraci, a perennial BMA nominee, contributes “From The Horse’s Mouth”.
Outstanding versions of six selected covers are included. The Five Royales “Don’t Give No More Than You Can Take” recorded in 1960; Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Bluebird Blues” from 1970; Little Walter Jacobs’ “Can’t Hold Out Much Longer” from 1952; “My Next Door Neighbor” written and recorded by Jerry McCain and His Upstarts in 1957; Geraci channeling Otis Spann on his “What Will Become of Me” first recorded in 1969; and Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler’s blues and jazz standard “I Got A Right To Sing The Blues” recorded by everyone from Louis Armstrong to Billie Holiday; once again with Robillard joining Baty on guitar.
Throughout the recording Norcia’s vocals and harmonica are among the finest to be heard. “Too Far from the Bar”, is one for the ages, as it just doesn’t get any better.