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Big James & The Chicago Playboys - Right Here Right Now

Blind Pig Records

11 songs; Time 47:08; Suggested

Styles: Blues, R&B, Soul, Funk

Name one contemporary Blues band led and fronted by a trombone player. Right, Big James and the Chicago Playboys – that’s one. Can you think of any others? I can’t either. While I have stated previously that I am not a big fan of horns in Blues bands, Chicago’s premier R&B ensemble has found a way into my heart.

“Right Here Right Now” is their fifth album, and its major label release on Blind Pig is a well deserved step up reflecting their critical acclaim. Introducing newcomers to the Playboys' unique horn-driven sound, the CD features seven James Montgomery original compositions as well as covers of Bobby Bland, Tyrone Davis, and the O'Jays.

Lead vocalist "Big James" Montgomery is a young man with a solid pedigree in the world of Rhythm & Blues. He played with Little Milton, Albert King, and Buddy Guy before fronting the Chicago Playboys. Drawing comparisons to James Brown's former rhythm-intensive backing band, they have also backed Eric Clapton and Otis Rush. Having seen them live four times, I can testify that when big James and the Chicago Playboys take the stage, they are tighter than a gnat’s ass stretched over a rain barrel.

Guitar fans should fret not; Mike Wheeler plays plenty of burning leads and rhythm interspersed in the mix with his background vocals. The Chicago Playboys are further comprised of original member Charlie Kimble on saxophone, Joe Blocker - keyboards, Larry Williams - bass, Cleo Cole - drums, and Theresa Davis - backup vocals. Kenny Anderson’s highly sought after trumpet and co-arrangements are studio added. Montgomery’s nephew, Derrick “D-Mose” Moseberry adds a rap segment to “On the Grind.”

Having gained the attention aficionados, Big James and Chicago Playboys have won the Living Blues magazine annual Critics' Poll for Most Outstanding Horns in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008, and received award nominations in 2002, 2006 and 2008 for the Blues Foundation’s Blues Music Awards. In addition they won the 2008 Prix Blues from the Académie du Jazz for their last Jamot release, "Thank God I Got the Blues."

Opening the set with the title track, The Playboys’ dynamic sound supplements Montgomery’s heart felt lyrics making a plea for humanity to do better, right here right now. The song displays the full band’s capabilities executing Montgomery’s and Anderson’s original horn arrangements supported by the rock solid drums and bass of Cleo Cole and Larry Williams, thoughtfully placed guitar work from Mike Wheeler, and rich keyboards from Joe Blocker. Big James’ vocals become nicely choral when Davis and Wheeler join in the background.
Other standout favorites include an ode to Mom Yvonne Montgomery “A Mama Like Mine,” a Chicago Blues testimonial “Worry,” the slow, emotional “Expect the Best” (but prepare yourself for the worst), and Wheeler’s scorching guitar runs in “I Love’em” in which Montgomery laments the untimely passing of Marvell Collins Woods and Vernon “Chico” Banks.

Horn lovers are obviously going to be in heaven with this release while Blues fans of all types will find something to like within. Find out what the critics have known since 2002, and then follow up this CD with Big James’ previous killer self release, “Thank God I Got the Blues” from 2007.

Reviewer James “Skyy Dobro” Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ and Blues Blast contributor. His weekly radio show “Friends of the Blues” can be heard each Thursday from 4:30 – 6:00pm on WKCC 91.1 FM in Kankakee, IL
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