Kim Wilson-styled vocalist/harmonica player and songwriter Sugar Ray Norcia edges toward Fabulous Thunderbirds territory on his fourth album with his Bluetones band (and first after ending his nearly seven-year tenure with Roomful of Blues). Former T-Bird guitarist Kid Bangham is also on hand to further cement the connection, and with this album's stripped-down sound and tougher R&B approach, it's a ringer for a new release from Austin's favorite blues band. There are differences of course: Ray's band is less pounding and more subtle and swampy in their approach to blues and R&B. His harp work isn't as overdriven as Wilson's and his phrasing remains understated while distinctive in its grits-and-honey delivery, even on the album's most charging tracks. Still, anyone who is a fan of either the Fabulous Thunderbirds or Roomful's more rocking/bluesy side will certainly be attracted to this release. Covers from the catalogs of Slim Harpo ("I Got Love if You Want It"), Little Walter ("Off the Wall"), and Bobby "Blue" Bland (a sizzling, seven-minute "It's My Life, Baby") pepper the predominantly original tunes, which slot somewhere between slinky Texas and rugged Chicago blues infused with classic urban R&B. Ray, whose harp talents were underutilized in the horn-heavy Roomful, makes up for lost time by soloing on almost every track, and Kid Bangham's guitar swings and stings without overshadowing the headliner's work. A deeply soulful and honest album whose understated attack and ensemble playing is more powerful than louder blues bands who substitute volume for passion.
AllMusic Review by Hal Horowitz