The James Montgomery Blues Band | Album Review

The James Montgomery Blues Band

Cleopatra Records

10 tracks

James Montgomery started his first band while attending Boston University in 1970.  He grew up in Detroit listening to blues harp masters like James Cotton, John Lee Hooker, and Jr. Wells at the Chessmate, the legendary blues and 1960’s folk club.  Heavily influenced by Paul Butterfield (whom he first saw in 1966), he has become a stellar performer on the harp in his own right.  He has toured, jammed and recorded with the likes of Aerosmith, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, the Allman Brothers, Steve Miller, B.B.King, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, Jr. Wells, James Cotton, Charlie Daniels, Bonnie Raitt, Greg Allman, Laverne Baker, Patti LaBelle, Peter Wolf and Mick Jagger.

In the 47 years of the James Montgomery Band, Montgomery has released 6 albums.  The 10 songs on this latest CD are comprised of 3 Butterfield inspired originals and 7 cuts that are listed as Paul Butterfield classics.  Joining Montgomery on the CD are his band George McCann on guitar and one vocal, David Hull on bass and one lead vocal, and Jeff Thompson on drums along with special guests Mark Naftalin (Paul Butterfield Band) on keys for “Mary Mary,” Grace Kelly on sax, Paul Nelson also on guitar for “Mary, Mary,” Conan O’Brien Band’s Jimmy Vivino on lead guitar for “I Got A Mind to Give Up Living and the Uptown Horns.  Montgomery’s Bands have spawned many a great musician and this group is equally super!

“One More Heartache” kicks off the set. A driving and high energy performance really gets things warmed up fast.  Montgomery blows some wild harp, McCann lays out some great licks and the horns behind the band make things sweeter.  The classic “Born In Chicago” takes the tempo down a bit.  Montgomery again gives a solid vocal performance while McCann takes the first solo and does a solid job throughout.  Montgomery comes in for his solo right after McCann for a great one-two punch.  Little Walter’s “Blues With a Feeling” opens with a mean harp and then Montgomery’s vocal lines spar with and get responses from McCann’s guitar.  We get a big solo from McCann and a shorter one from Montgomery on this well known tune.  The first original cut is next.  Penned and sung by McCann, “Young Woman’s Love” is a slow blues with McCann’s lyrics echoed by Montgomery’s harp.  Montgomery goes for the big solo that builds in intensity (as does the song).  McCann closes things out nicely with his guitar.  “Mary, Mary” is a Mike Nesmith song written for Butterfield that the Monkees also later recorded.  Mark Naftalin’s organ spices up things and Montgomery’s harp is stratospheric in this great 1960’s throwback.  Nelson joins McCann on guitar here, too.  Harp, organ and the guitars each get a turn out front.

“I’ve Got a Mind to Give Up Living” is another classic and this slow blues cut is intense.  Jimmy Vivino’s lead guitar is poignant and cool, Montgomery’s vocals are gritty, and his harp is all greasy and nicely done.  Thoughtful and sweet!  Elmore James’ “Shake Your Moneymaker: is the next tune and the band gives it a good run through.  Nice slide and guitar work and fuzzed up vocals with lots of echo couple up with the driving beat.  The original instrumental “Good Question” was written jointly by Montgomery, McCann and Grace Kelly the sax player.  It includes a huge and well done sax solo, a harp solo and then a guitar solo.  The music runs 100 miles an hour and it’s a lot of jazzy and bluesy fun. The bass layer wrote and sings “One Plus One,” a jump blues that is also a lot of fun.  Montgomery does another huge solo followed by a shorter solo by McCann.  Well-done!  The ever popular “Mystery Train” gets an even peppier beat and driving rockabilly sort of backing with big-assed harp and guitar.  A blistering pace and some very tight work by the band give this song a cool and different spin.

I really enjoyed this one and with each listen I found something new and cool to like about it.  It’s a rough and tumble set of tunes, giving the Butterfield sound a little bit of an update yet retaining that sound within what they do.  The band and guests are superb and the production is well done.  I think harp lovers need to add this one to their collection- Montgomery is the real deal and it’s a winner!

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