Big James & the Chicago Playboys | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Big James & the Chicago Playboys 

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Trombonist Big James Montgomery and his Playboys' current disk, Blues Power (Isabel), collects a handful of tracks from their 1999 debut, Funkin' Blues, and most of 2001's If It Wasn't 4 Da Blues (both released on Montgomery's own label). The juxtaposition illustrates both the blessings and the pitfalls of maturation: the earlier tracks, which range from a boogity-shoe cover of James Brown's "Blues & Pants" to a grits-and-gunpowder assault on Magic Sam's "All of Your Love," are a bit rough around the edges but shot through with backstreet ferocity. Most of the tunes from the 2001 disk are less frenetic but leave more room for the harmonic textures to breathe and develop. On tracks like "A Happy Fool" the band achieves a balance of hard-funk aggression and sprightly pop jubilance reminiscent of Tower of Power at their height. Montgomery also shows signs of developing into a first-class soul balladeer: his vocals on "Da Best Love I Never Had" infuse callow adolescent longing with life-toughened, bluesy muscle. Occasionally, though, it sounds as if years of playing to shuffle-happy Chicago club patrons have taken their toll: Montgomery and the band sound reined in by the straight shuffle rhythms of "Da Coldest Man I Ever Knew" and the title tune. None of this will matter much in concert: the band's three primary soloists--Montgomery, saxist Charles Kimble, and guitarist Mike Wheeler--can funk up anything they get their hands on. Toronzo & the Cannonball Express open. Friday, February 13, 9:30 PM, Buddy Guy's Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 312-427-0333.

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