Vocalist and trombone player "Big James" Montgomery has shared the stage with a
real life "Who's Who" of the blues, including work with Albert King, Little Milton,
Buddy Guy and Otis Rush, just to name a few. Since 1996, Montgomery has been the lead man, playing trombone and providing vocals, with The Chicago Playboys. If It Wasn't 4 Da' Blues is the second release for the group and a follow-up to their
critically acclaimed debut, Funkin' Blues. Although the horn section comprised of Big James on trombone and saxman Charlie "da Fugitive" Kimble have remained with the band since the debut, the rest of The Chicago Playboys have changed considerably. The "new" Chicago Playboys are comprised of Mike "Priest" Wheeler (guitar), C.C. (bass), Cleo "ta-ta-ta" Cole (drums), Joe "Goldie" Blocker (keyboards) and special guest Kenny Anderson on trumpet.
Six of the eleven songs If It Wasn't 4 Da' Blues are originals written by Big James
Montgomery. The remaining songs include a range of material from the gospel
inflected "I'm Going Home (2 Live With God)" to the funkified "Qualified 2 Satisfy" by
George "Funkadelic" Clinton and the B. B. King classic, "Chains & Things." As I
listened to the CD, I was struck by the quality of the band, especially Mike Wheeler's
stinging guitar and Kenny Anderson's great trump solo on the Big James original, "A
Happy Fool." I also racked my brain as I tried to figure out what was so familiar about Big James fine vocals. After a couple of sessions listening to the CD, it finally
occurred to me that Big James voice was hauntingly similar to one of my all time
favorite bluesmen, the late Luther Allison.
If It Wasn't 4 Da' Blues starts off with the title track, a plaintive cry from Big James
that indicates the only thing he can really count on is the blues. In the second of four
straight originals opening the CD, "Da Coldest Man I Ever Knew," is a song dedicated
to Big James father and, despite my initial confusion with the word "Coldest" in the
title, it is a heartfelt tribute to the late James "Big Chief" Montgomery and his impact
on his son. "Never Loved Anyone Like U" has a sound like some of the great songs by Little Milton Campbell and features some fine, soulful vocals by Big James. The fourth original, "Low Down Dirty Blues" is just what the title describes, a low down blues song that really sounds like Luther Allison with its combination of Big James' vocals and gut-wrenching guitar by Mike Wheeler, further complimented by some great keyboard work by Joe Blocker.
My favorites on the cover side of the CD are "Qualified 2 Satisfy" and "Chains &
Things." Big James provides is own signature interpretations of these classics, getting into a nice groove on "Qualified 2 Satisfy" and really reworking "Chains & Things" into a slow blues that is distinctly different from the B. B. King original.
If It Wasn't 4 Da' Blues is a stellar second effort by Big James Montgomery with The
Chicago Playboys. To pick up a copy of If It Wasn't 4 Da' Blues, or to find out more
about Big James Montgomery, check out his website at www.bigjames.com
This review is copyright © 2001 by Dave "Doc" Piltz, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.
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