Sugar Blue

Beeble, 2010

REVIEW BY: David Bowling


James Whiting has been playing the harmonica since grade school. By the time he was a teenager, he had already been onstage with the legendary Muddy Waters. He took his stage name from an old Sidney Bechet record, Sugar Blues, which he came across in the trash.

Sugar Blue has toured constantly for the past 35 years, both as a solo artist and supporting the likes of Willie Dixon and Louisiana Red. His “Another Man Done Gone” was a part of a compilation album that garnered him a 1985 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album. His greatest claim to fame is his work with The Rolling Stones, who invited him to play on their my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Some Girls, Emotional Rescue, and Tattoo You albums. Just listen to their hit “Miss You” to hear him at his best.

Sugar Blue now stands as one of the great blues harp players in the world. His speed, the clarity of tone, and the fluidity which he runs through a number of octaves are second to none. His vocals are a bit strained in places but fit the blues tradition well.

Threshold is his fifth solo studio release and he gathers a tight band in support of this disc. The album features guitarist Rico McFarland, guitarist Moto Makino, bassist Noel Neal, drummer John Knowles, and keyboardist Ilaria Lantieri.

Blue wrote or co-wrote nine of the eleven tracks on this release, and while there are elements of rock, jazz, and funk, he usually comes down within a blues style. The song structures are excellent and the lyrics and vocals competent, but they are usually the setup for his harp work.

“Stop The War” is a biting anti-war statement, while “Cotton Tree” is an ode to harmonica legend James Cotton. “Noel News” is a celebration for the people of New Orleans. It is straight from the jump blues tradition, with his vocal and harp playing intertwining to create a memorable track. “Ramblin’” is a smooth flowing instrumental and features Sugar Blue creatively dueting on harmonica with himself.

The two cover songs are both excellent. “Messin’ With The Kid” is an old Junior Wells tune that returns him to his roots. “Trouble” is a Leiber-Stoller composition that was recorded by Elvis Presley, and Sugar gives it a nice blues workouthere.

Threshold is the latest album by a blues harp virtuoso. If you appreciate the blues or the harmonica, this is an album for you.

Rating: B+

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