Bill Copeland Music News
By Bill Copeland
October 15, 2015
Darrell Nulisch graces Opening track “Everything I Do Is Wrong” with his steady soulfulness, his tender vocal mining the depth of this song. Nulisch takes the listener down deep into the heart of the matter and brings the message back up with an understated expression that makes the feeling loud and clear. This number is also buttressed by Monster Mike Welch’s brittle, tender guitar phrase, a line so light, high, and emotive it will make listeners cry.
Title track “Fifty Shades Of Blue” will likely become known as Michelle Wilson’s “Handcuffs Song.” Wilson and Sugar Ray Norcia duet on this tale of lust and playful kinkiness. Willson’s sultry timbre and playful delivery balances well with Norcia’s more forceful belting. Meanwhile, Geraci’s jaunty piano line more than hints at what’s going on, something that results in two people reaching 50 shades of blue. It’s just a fun suggestive song that should receive airplay real soon.
Norcia continues the lead vocal mission on “Sad But True” and his harmonica work flavors this piano driven shuffle with something tasty and deep. Welch kicks out some scratchy guitar lines that work in beautiful partnership with that seriously unfurling layer of heartfelt harp grind. This track is so rooted in Chicago style that a blues purist could listen to over and over again and swear it was recorded at Chess studios back in the day.
Geraci boogies his way right into “Heard That Tutwiler Whistle Blow” with layering of smoky piano notes that builds a dramatic scene. Norcia is still on lead vocal duty here, emoting about the dream of finding work at Mr. Ford’s automobile factory. Escaping a scenario of lynching and other strife, this song’s narrator paints a vivid motion picture in the listener’s mind while making one feel his determination. Norcia unfurls his gut wrenching tale with his gritty timbre and soulful belt. He seconds that emotion with a stomping, punctuated harmonica line that makes one feel his past struggles, shifting from peaks to valleys in his harp line. Every note here is tastefully rendered and it should go over well with any fan of the Chicago blues idioms.
Michelle Willson does her thang on “If You Want To Get To Heaven.” With a swinging sultriness that can’t be beat, she milks each verse for all its longing, forlorn worth, bemoaning her fate of abandonment like a woman who can’t go home again. Her earthiness makes it real and most of this action pack song hangs together very well, swinging around its beat with forceful momentum.
A breezy down tempo blues number, “Don’t Keep Me Waiting,” finds Norcia in the role of old school crooner. He coaxes plenty of emotion out of this tune while phrasing with a nuanced precision that reminds of Frank Sinatra as much as Charles Brown. Mr. Geraci flavors this graceful waltz beautifully. His layers of tender ballad style piano and smoky organ riffs make this one feel like something recorded in 1950 and is already included in numerous anthologies.
Geraci gets more into his aggressive side on “The Blues Never Sleeps.” He taps out a feisty melodic line in which each interval of notes slaps the song briskly forward. Nulisch’s harmonica run is another engine driver and the entire shuffle stomps its way in a persistent direction. Geraci doesn’t reinvent the wheel here. He just rolls it with style.
“Too Late For Coffee” finds Norcia in the role of conductor, driving this country blues piano ballad through pleasant pastures with his strong but gentle croon. He’s heading back home for the woman he hasn’t seen in months, and Norcia makes us feel that longing, anticipation. It’s a beautiful love song, excellently executed, brilliantly paced, and passionately sung.
Toni Lynn Washington handles the lead vocals on “Diamonds And Pearls,” a mid-tempo blues number that lets her strut her stuff. Ms. Washington layers her rich timbre over a thumpy beat, brisk piano rolls, and a frisky guitar phrase. An instrumental break lets Geraci and then Welch showcase their juicy melodic lines, each putting their notes through hoops to keep things jumpy, juicy, and sweet. Washington sings this with a swagger that easily matches the fine instrumentation jumping around her character-rich vocal.
Nulisch is back at the microphone for “Cry A Million Tears.” At his emotive best in the way he sings it here, laid back, unobtrusive, he finds his place politely amidst the melodies and groove. It’s uncanny how well he massages the emotional message out of this song with his tasteful self-restraint. An understated electric guitar line from Welch offers another layer of emotion while Geraci’s piano and organ carry a wide, unadulterated, unresolved sadness. Geraci knows how to compose a blues song with tremendous feeling and how to bring it to life with the perfect line up and the perfect arrangement.
Geraci also knows when its time cut loose and get everybody on the dance floor. I dare anybody not to move their feet to “In The Quicksand, Again.” I dare you. I double dare you. This instrumental moves with a speedy display of instrumentation that stimulates the mind while the rhythm section delivers a groove and backbeat impossible to resist. It’s a bit flashy, but it’s also well constructed. There’s greasy guitar spikes and bopping piano to motivate you even more.
Norcia turns in another beautiful vocal performance on “Your Turn To Cry.” This dandy is another of Geraci’s Charles Brown influenced blues ballads. The keyboards practically swell with emotion while Norcia tenderly rides the rails created by Geraci’s organ progression and nuanced piano line. Norcia also pulls out his harmonica for a further tumescent tenderness, landing in a sweep spot with his seasoned harp line.
Geraci closes out with an instrumental tribute to another area keyboardist who took the blues far and wide. “Blues For David Maxwell” offers beauteous blues piano tinkling, notes that build and cascade with a large sense of meaning and purpose. Welch’s guitar whispers a sense of loss in the backdrop with its muted briskness as the rhythm boys give it all a gentle push. Each time Marty Richard’s stick hits his drum rim the listener can feel himself falling further into the sense of loss, mourning, reverence, and warmth that abounds in this hearty salute. If all that wasn’t enough, Michael “Mudcat” Ward takes over the beat duty with a thick, wholesome low end plucking, supporting Norcia’s Native American flute, an instrument that offers beauty, spiritualism, and exotic melody all at once. A perfect tribute.
Geraci and his band of blues gangbusters and sultry bombshells have come up with a dynamite album. Fifty Shades Of Blue is just bursting at the seams with crackling, energetic up tempo blues and swelling emotive ballads. Geraci has certainly distinguished himself as a songwriter, composer, and arranger of the highest order. Blues fans need to buy this album right away.
Fifty Shades of Blue
By Jim Hynes
December 11, 2015
The Boston area is home to some of the best blues keyboardists, including the late David Maxwell, Dave Limina (Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters), and Anthony Geraci (Sugar Ray and the Bluetones), who makes his debut here as leader for the Boston Blues All-Stars. Geraci is not only a blues piano master, he is a gifted composer too. Look no further than his title, and arguably best, track on the most recent widely acclaimed BlueTones release, Living Tear to Tear. Building on that momentum, Geraci gathered his bandmates and top notch vocalists Toni Lynn Washington, Darrell Nulisch and Michelle “Evil Gal” Willson for these sessions that feature 13 Geraci originals, ranging from stomp to swing, with torchy ballads and even a touch of world music on the closing tribute to David Maxwell. As the title indicates, there are at least 50 shades of the blues in these recordings.
Geraci and most of the accompanying musicians have distinguished pedigrees partnering with and backing the likes of Muddy Waters, Big Joe Turner, James Cotton, Otis Rush, Big Mama Thornton, Hubert Sumlin, and in Geraci’s case, Jimmy Rogers. That’s only a glimpse of their respective lineages. Geraci is a founding member of both Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters and Sugar Ray and Bluetones, which he has played with for the past 35 years.
Sugar Ray Norcia sings on six tracks, most splendidly on the crooners “Don’t Keep Me Waiting” and “Your Turn to Cry.” Norcia adds his harmonica to three tracks and blows the Native American flute on the gorgeous, mournful instrumental “Blues for David Maxwell.” Darrell Nulisch is the vocalist on three tunes, including the slow burner, “Cry a Million Tears,” perhaps the album’s strongest cut. Michelle “Evil Gal” Willson renders “If You Want to Get to Heaven” in her signature sassy style. Geraci’s piano playing sparkles here and throughout the record. Monster Mike Welch is strong and steady on guitar, providing intrusive solos only when called upon. These are top notch blues players bringing their A game.
As Geraci says, “Music is just something I was born with. It is something that is just inside me.” He builds on his deep experience as a sideman to flawlessly assume the leadership role. Blues is seldom purer than it is here.