Sugar Ray & the Bluetones

Hands Across the Table

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Ray Norcia is known as a blues harmonica ace, but when all is said and done, his greatest strength may well be his voice, and when he sings at his best, he brings a touch of country and a little bit of jazz swing to the blues. Hands Across the Table, his third release on David Earl's Severn Records, and the first to feature new guitarist Paul Size, doesn't push for too much. There's plenty of harp soloing here, naturally, and things are helped out immensely by the presence of the Providence Horns on several tracks, which adds a solid punch to the rhythm section, but things don't really rise much above journeyman blues until halfway through the album when Norcia decides to let in the country R&B on the Fats Domino-styled reworking of Frankie Laine's "That's My Desire." A case could be made that Norcia is the Charlie Rich of East Coast blues, and on "I Wanna Marry You Girl" his vocal strikes close to the spot where country and the blues still have a shared agenda. His voice even sounds a little bit like the great Jack Teagarden on the two best tracks here, the jazzy "River Stay 'Way from My Door" and the magnificent "The Last Blues Song," which features the subtle and perfectly nuanced phrasing of a master vocalist. No one is suggesting that Norcia toss away his harps -- his driving (but not overdriven) tone on harmonica is always a plus -- but this man can sing, and not just the blues.

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