"No Special Rider" is a digital re-release of recordings by the late Little Brother Montgomery from 1969. Born in Kentwood, Louisiana in 1906, Little Brother Montgomery was very active in the record business from the 1920's until his death in 1985. Montgomery's wide repertoire placed him in high demand among the fine crop of piano players in Chicago, providing him with opportunities to perform in both blues and jazz combos. Montgomery's recorded piano skills were in high demand by audiences, both black and white, as early as the 1930's when his recordings were marketed by Bluebird Records to jazz enthusiasts.
The recordings on "No Special Rider" are as varied as the man who performs in the forefront of each tune. Of the twelve songs on the CD, four are instrumentals, three include vocals by Little Brother, four include vocals by jazz singer Jeanne Carroll and one includes a brief interview with Montgomery as he talks about his development as a pianist from the first song he ever learned to the present (1969). The sound quality of the recording has a hollow, yet clear, sound that might be reminiscent of sitting by the piano at any smoke filled bar in old Chicago. Along with the five instrumentals (including the interview number), many of the vocal numbers include extended piano solos by Little Brother. Five songs include additional instrumental accompaniment by Mike Stewart on National Steel Guitar, including the very well done "Cow Cow Blues." The vocal numbers by Jeanne Carroll are all slower, torch songs that demonstrate Carroll's powerful and emotional vocal style. Particularly well done among these tunes are "You Gotta See Your Mama" and "Oh, Daddy." Personally, I found "Little Brother's Early Pieces and History" to be an interesting medley of songs prefaced by a brief interview with Montgomery and his description of his development as a piano player. Listening carefully, you get a sense of the pride that Little Brother had in his craft.
Anyone who is a fan of the great blues pianists from the golden age of blues piano that gave us Montgomery and his peers including Roosevelt Sykes, Sunnyland Slim, Crippled Clarence Lofton and others, will enjoy this demonstration of distinctive piano style. Blues historians will enjoy it as an important example of an era when piano held a more prominent role in blues performance. However, in the final assessment, "No Special Rider" is simply good blues music to be enjoyed by everyone.
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This review is copyright © 2000 by Dave "Doc" Piltz, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.