The Upshot: Fans of southern rock take note. This Florida-based band rises from the ashes of the Toler-Tucci Band and, together with the addition of Arkansas’ Larry McCray, the south may well be rising again.
BY ERIC THOM
Unless you’re a botanist or an art major, you’d likely not give this disc passing notice, visually – its moody, floral cover art revealing precious little about its inspiring content. Tucci is a band that hails from Sarasota, Florida, blossoming around guitarist/singer/composer Steve “Doc” Tucci, bassist Harry DeBusk, brother/drummer Mike Tucci and saxophonist/vocalist Shawn Murphy. You might recall the Toler-Tucci Band, an earlier offshoot that featured Great Southern/Allman Bros. guitarist “Dangerous Dan” Toler (who died in 2013 of ALS). This updated version of the band maintains the guitar as its key instrument across an amalgam of rock, blues and a hint of country. At the same time – and not to detract from the band – Doc has teamed up with the hard-driving blues genius of Larry McCray and the combination is thoroughly brain-shattering, making one wonder where Larry’s been these last few years. He’s all over this record and, never sounding better, adds real muscle and unbridled energy to Tucci’s blues and rock-based sound. The disc also features one of Toler’s final recordings, “Play by The Rules” – slow, Southern blues with a powerful vocal by Al Owen, the twin guitars of Toler and Tucci atop Donnie Richard’s rich bed of B3. This is a sweet present, immortalizing Toler’s gifts as it adds to the somewhat schizophrenic nature of the record – if only because a patchwork quilt of players and singers seem to come and go across the course of eleven original tunes. The best news of all is that, despite the passing of Greg Allman and what seems the end of an era of beloved Southern Rock, the spirit is alive and well in Sarasota.
Right out of the gate, “High Roller” is a robust, horn-tinged blues attack that can best be summed up in two words: Larry McCray. Coupled with Doc Tucci’s guitar and Donnie Richards’ B3, this track explodes with energy and sets the tone. McCray’s warm, beefy vocal suit his Freddy King-styled guitar edge. The title track suffers only because Shawn Murphy vocals follow McCray’s, although the addition of great slide guitar from Ira Stanley, Doc Tucci on guitar, Richards on B3 and a (sadly uncredited) major league horn section, “Olivia” manages to burn down the barn. “I Don’t Need It” sees the return of McCray’s guitar and rich vocal, slowing things down to drive the blues in even deeper as Michael Tucci’s crisp drum attack merges with Richards’ soulful B3.”Gimme Some Of Your Love” proffers tight horns, Tucci’s expansive guitar sound and the throaty growl of McCray’s vocals (the track recalling Steppenwolf’s “Straight Shootin’ Woman”). Steve “Doc” Tucci’s wafer-thin vocals hold back “Overtaxed Blues” which, otherwise, is the perfect vehicle for he and McCray to spar like superstars on guitar, nicely accented by Dan Ryan’s spritely piano contribution. The same lineup transforms “Hey, Florida” into a muscular, slide-friendly, twin guitar (Tucci/McCray) assault on the Sunshine State as added percussion (again, uncredited) and a revitalized vocal turn (and exceptional sax solo) by Shawn Murphy join Richards’ potent B3 work to elevate this love letter into a meaty, Southern rock jam reinvigorating the category.
This spirited lineup follows with the slightly slowed down “Big Train” as Murphy’s vocal again finds its proper home. Tucci and McCray draw deeply upon their blues core, both turning in exceptional solos while Tucci’s slick horn section (bolstered by another luscious sax solo from Murphy) proves they’re unable to quit. McCray owns “Without You” with his convincing vocal as he and Doc continue mining their slow blues vein while Dan Ryan blankets the track in impassioned B3 – the Unnamed Horns doing their damnedest to make a name for themselves. This is an exemplary example of Tucci’s full potential as a band. Enter Dan Toler with his last recorded workout from ’12 with “Play by The Rules”. Al Owen locks down a fitting lead vocal as Toler’s guitar sound volunteers a hard-edged country-blues feel, Doc’s guitar assuming more of a support role to set up Toler’s velvety lead. The caliber of Donnie Richards’ exceptional B3 skills cannot be understated as Michael Tucci and DeBusk are more than up to the challenge of holding the TUCCI bottom down. “You Hurt Me” returns McCray to the fold with his signature vocals as the Tucci/McCray guitar line, Dan Ryan’s applied piano and the Nameless Horns set the stage for even more searing guitar solos from both players.
The coup de grâce comes in the form of the closing track, “Third Eye”. Again, Shawn Murphy delivers a seamless vocal while guesting guitarist Bob Dielman and Doc toughen their guitar sound to achieve deep grace on this 12-minute opus. Reinforced by a hefty rhythm section and backup vocals, additional percussion helps to turn up the temperature while Richards outdoes himself on B3. All the while, Dielman and Doc take turns strafing the swirling mass like young starfighters on adrenaline highs. More Captain Beyond at times than ABB, “Third Eye” single-handedly exhumes the true benefits of the extended jam, right down to DeBusk’s too-brief bass solo, Richards’ scorching keyboards and the percussion-only break at the 7:30 mark. So, if you thought the death of Southern Rock was nigh upon us, Tucci (the band) will have you back waving your flag in no time flat.
DOWNLOAD: “Third Eye,” “High Roller,” “Hey Florida”