Release date: April 29, 2019
Jamot Music By Terry Abrahamson
If Big James’ Montgomery’s A Dose of the Blues was any more Chicago, I’d be taking a schmear to write this review. Music like this is not created in a studio. It rises from the concrete in the alley behind 43rd Street, creeps up through the rusted creaky landings of long-condemned fire escapes and clings to the underside of the red line’s last green and yellow El car, singed by sparks and scorched by close encounters with the third rail. The roll-in to “Terror Town” says it all in five words dripping with pride and pain and fear and love and begrudging hope and Nelson Algren and Jeff Fort and Pervis Spann: “The South Side of Chicago.”
This is trombonist, bandleader, singer/songwriter Big James’ album and if he wants to call it A Dose of the Blues, I can live with that. But it oozes Memphis and Motown and Wilson Pickett and Dennis Edwards, and it pushed my wish to talk Big James Montgomery into covering The Tempations’ “I Can’t Get Next to You” to the top of my bucket list. So go on; call it Soul as much as you call it Blues, and it’s as feel good as anything I’ve heard or seen or felt or drank or smoked since forever.
Lyrically, there’s social comment, love, family….hardly untrodden ground, but who cares? The power of Big James’ musicians, grooves and arrangements would’ve kept this album rockin’ if he’d sung the transcripts of the Mueller Report. Produced by Big James Montgomery and Larry “Dub” Williams (bassist for Mike Wheeler Band and sometimes Big James & The Chicago Playboys), every player shines and the horn arrangements by Big James and trumpet star Kenny Anderson -- reminiscent of everything from Stax to Peter Tosh -- could turn traffic school into the Party of the Century. Big James seizes the reins on trombone and -- as steamrolled home with the deep and luscious portrait he paints of his hometown on “I Am…” -- never lets go. And Mike Wheeler’s guitar refuses to let us forget that there ain’t no rhythm n’ blues without the Blues. More of Chicago’s finest contribute to A Dose of the Blues, including: sax man Ronnie Graham, Roosevelt Purifoy on keys, rhythm guitarist Brian Lupo, plus drummers Paige “Bam Bam” Murry and Phillip “Dante” Burgess.
I would’ve been happy with a mere sequel to Big James’ blistering Chicago Playboys’ “Big Payback.” But if A Dose of the Blues is any indication of Montgomery’s powers of self-elevatin’, I’m guessing what comes next will be, to borrow from the Muddy Waters Vocabularium, the elevatinest explosion of Chicago R & B since Willie and Koko turned Chicago State Mental Hospital into a Chess Valhalla. This is Heal the Sick/Raise the Dead/Eyesight to the Blind grit and grits & groceries served up like a blood-boiling banquet seeping out of every pore of a city whose shoulders never sounded bigger.
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About the Author: Terry Abrahamson won a Grammy by writing songs for Muddy Waters. He helped launch George Thorogood’s career and created John Lee Hooker’s first radio commercial, which are just a few of his accomplishments. Terry also is a playwright. He and partner Derrick Procell wrote songs recorded by Shemekia Copeland, Long Tall Deb and Joseph “Mojo” Morganfield. Terry authored the acclaimed photography book, In The Belly of The Blues – Chicago to Boston to L.A. 1969 to 1983 -- A Memoir.