Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Big James and the Playboys Bring Funk and Soul to the Blues

I previously noted that Big James Montgomery had signed to Blind Pig Records.

Here is my review that originally appeared June 2009 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 317 page 15) that can be downloaded from

Big James Montgomery has been part of the Chicago Playboys when the aggregation was led by the late vocalist Johnny Christian. After Christian’s untimely death in 1993, the band kept together with the stocky trombonist assuming the leadership and putting this blues/ R&B/ funk aggregation unique by being fronted by a trombone playing singer. The band that also includes Charlie Kimble on saxophone, Kenny Anderson on trumpet, Joe Blocker on keyboards, Mike Wheeler on guitar, Larry Williams on bass and Cleo Cole on drums has become a tight, hard driving ensemble that has been building a solid following in performances at clubs and festivals. This writer recalls his first exposure to them at the Pocono Blues Festival a few years back and was knocked out by their tough sound and Big James passionate singing on mostly original material as they celebrated the blues and Chicago. They got their soulful groove on and the audience was floored with many purchasing one of their self-produced CDs.

Blind Pig has just issued Big James’ latest CD, “
Right Here Right Now” (and first they did not self-produce and release) and its another solid effort in the fashion of their prior recordings, plenty of hard hitting rhythms, punchy brass and Big James heartfelt singing. Most of this originals although they pay a nod to the O’Jays, Bobby Bland and George Clinton on their covers. Big James is street smart and savvy, and his lyrics, like his singing, is direct and a matter of fact and not very metaphorical.

The title song opens this set and is a message song cataloging some of the problems in everyday life and choices we have to make to make things better or we have no one else to blame. “A Mama Like Mine” is a love song for his mother with a punchy brassy opening as he recalls never hearing her ever complain about anything, that she was not very tall but she gave so much of herself and I love her so, and James wishes everyone had a mama like his. No flowery language but a simple and moving expression of love punctuated by his trombone solo. “I Love ‘Em,” is a rocking shuffle celebrating the blues noting that the blues “ain’t prejudiced it don’t care who we choose,” and how he’s paid these dues with a sharp guitar break from Wheeler, before James sing about playing the blues until he can’t play before anymore, then taking the tune out on his trombone.

While James is not gifted a singer as Bobby Bland, his rendition of Bland’s recording, “Love to See You Smile,” benefits from his straight-forward, honest delivery. The emptiness of not having a relationship is conveyed in “Help (Somebody Please),” while the blues is front and center on the closing “Worry,” an original which is inspired by a song from the B.B. King and Buddy Guy songbook, and which closes this disc on a strong note.

Those who have any of Big James and the Chicago Playboys will not be surprised by the music here while others will get to discover the unique, funky soul and blues sound that they put down.

For purposes of FTC regulations, the review copy was provided by Blind Pig Records.

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