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Enneagram Records

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       Mark Montgomery


THE PITCH, Kansas City
June 23, 2009

So maybe you're in the mood for something greasy, a little sleazy and lot satisfyin'. That would be Town Topic — the album and the place. The album is by longtime Kansas City blues- and jazzman Mark Montgomery who covers the blues on this album like cheese on a patty and plays several instruments doing it. The title track is a tribute to the late-night, real-grease hamburger joint. The tune has a serious KC blues-jazz groove with a heaping helping of the medium­slow burn of "Killer Joe." Classic. But Montgomery doesn't just stay downtown. He also does his time in "Johnson County Blues" — if it isn't autobiographical, it sure sounds like it is. And while Montgomery and company serve up flavors of the blues from urban to rural, they also get in a midnight jazz feeling with "Lonely Kansas City Night." For live consumption, Montgomery kicks off day two of this weekend's Kansas City, Kansas, Street Blues Festival, playing Saturday at 11 a.m.

Robert Folsom

“With Town Topic, Montgomery and Berry cook up a tasty dish spiced with wry humor and served up with stellar musicianship.”

Chuck Haddix
Host of “The Fish Fry” on KCUR 89.3 FM, Kansas City, MO

May 1, 2009

Last Saturday night I tuned in to Chuck Haddix’s “Fish Fry” program on KCUR-FM, and, just then, Chuck was playing the title song on Kansas City blues man Mark Montgomery’s just-released CD, “Town Topic.”

I had seen Montgomery and his Mo City Jumpers playing just hours before at Harling’s Upstairs Bar and Grill, 3941-A Main St., where the Jumpers were featured at that establishment’s regular Saturday afternoon jam session. I knew this was a CD release party, but arrived late. So the Fish Fry spin that night was the first time I had heard “Town Topic.”

I was genuinely impressed with the CD, which is a blues story-song in the tradition of “Alice’s Restaurant,” “The Devil Came Down to Georgia” and the “Friday Night Fish Fry,” the theme song of Haddix’s Friday and Saturday night radio shows. Haddix, who knows as much about music as anyone in Kansas City, likes “Town Topic,” too.

“With Town Topic, Montgomery and (Max) Berry cook up a tasty dish spiced with wry humor and served up with stellar musicianship,” Haddix said.

Mark and Max Berry, of Enneagram Records, who produced “Town Topic,” are the 2009 Kansas City International Blues Challenge winners and they have been chosen to open for legendary blues man Mike Finnegan when he brings his band to KC for an outdoor concert in June.

The song Town Topic is named for a locally famous 24-hour-a-day diner located on Broadway just north of Southwest Blvd. The song strings together a heart-breaking yet humorous chain of occurrences that befall a blues traveler who is down on his luck and out on the town, and who ends up at the Town Topic.

Asked later if he could sum up the musical action in Town Topic, which takes more than 11 minutes to perform, Mark Montgomery himself said, “The song ‘Town Topic’ is a tale of unrequited love, and being just plain down on your luck.

“When you sit at the counter at the Town Topic at 4 a.m. on a Saturday, you see Kansas City’s night life rolling in off the streets like a wave with their drunken laughter, bitter sorrow, warm friendship, and silent loneliness,” Montgomery said.

Some flavor from the Town Topic adventure can be seen in the following excerpt:

‘A drink or 2 o’clock in the morning…
three or four cocktails later
they’re singing last call
the clock on the wall…
you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.’

Mark’s rich baritone and multi-dimensional chops (guitar, bass and harmonica) bring to life his twisted observations of love and life. The CD, a collection of 11 of Mark’s Chicago- and Deep South-inspired blues compositions, boasts an impressive ensemble of Kansas City musicians.

Not included on the CD, Lory Lacy, herself a musician who plays the flute and saxophone and also sings, hosts Harling’s Saturday jam session. She knows Mark well, and also likes Town Topic:

“The song ‘Town Topic’ is a modern expression of the historical richness that a unique place like Kansas City can inspire,” Lacy said.

“The joint itself, Town Topic hamburgers, is where musicians and other late-nighters have traditionally gone for that slug-in-the-gut they won’t find anyplace else at 3 a.m. Mark Montgomery is a modern bard whose heart is in the blues, and whose imagination is fed by the classic energy of his home town.”

Tom Bogdon

“Mark Montgomery, my own personal beekeeper and musician, reaches out with songs and stories with a relaxing flow that makes you want to sit and enjoy. Couldn’t bee a nicer guy. I hope only great things will come to him.”

Uncle Bo’s, Topeka, KS

August | September 2009  Volume 23, No. 4

This is a blues album that grooves hard and is filled with original tunes written by Mark Montgomery that fit in the blues tradition, but provide a contemporary take on the themes for which the blues are known: melancholy, poverty, loneliness, and broken love.

The harmonica and guitars create a warm, full sound from the start, and Scotty McBee provides a steady heart-beat punch on drums. From tune one you know this album will get you moving, start you dancing, if you’re ready, and sing you something worth hearing.

Although there are no printed lyrics with this album, we’d use them, if we had them. The songwriting is remarkable. Montgomery has as much talent with a pen as he does with vocals, guitars, harmonica, and bass. He’s articulate, witty, and visionary. The fate of KC blues may depend on men like him, who can take the tradition forward and speak about our times through the vehicle of the blues. Especially bright spots on the album include “Talk to Your Doctor” and “Johnson County Blues.”

“Talk to Your Doctor” is a witty parody of those TV prescription drug commercials that are now prevalent at all hours on the tube. But, in this case, the blues are what can cure us. Montgomery sings “Talk to your doctor. / See if the blues is right for you.” The song starts with one of those lists of symptoms that the TV prescription drug ads use to begin. Montgomery sings “If you suffer needlessly / from the ups and downs of life— / excessive failures, bad dreams, / and a nagging husband or greedy ex-wife; / too much month left over / when the money is all through…” Then, the blues might be right for you. After a musical and instrumental interlude, Montgomery lists some of the possible drawbacks of using the blues, in a witty, imaginative way. I laughed out loud the first time I heard this song. “But the side effects may include: / dry mouth, and weepy eyes, / a waist band of increased size, / some late night two-fisted drinking…” It’s a novel song, and it pokes fun at this prescription era we live in, using just the right touch.

“Johnson County Blues,” a mournful protest, speaks of social and economic inequity, and the singer sings from jail about how the powerful Johnson Countians always win. It’s the opposite of “Talk to Your Doctor” in theme and approach, but is comparable in power. It showcases Montgomery’s skill with lyrics again—to which he adds an equally mournful musical groove.

Lines from the song that sum it up best go something like this: “Some folks got it made / in this land of opportunity. / This place called Johnson County, / well, it ain’t no place for me.”

Overall, the sound of this album is full and complete, including some occasional sax choruses composed of Alex Montgomery on alto, Dana Smith on tenor, and Carl Bender on bari. Also, Scotty McBee’s drumming on this album is driving and tasteful, from the truly soulful groove on “Small Change” to the faint cymbal dish hit that is the final note of “Town Topic.” The blues are built on rhythm, and if they don’t groove, they don’t move us. McBee propels us through this album—soulfully, tastefully, and with lots of heart. Also, the guitars bring a full, energetic sound to this album, featuring Montgomery and Max Berry. Jim Beisman and Michael Pagan bring that melodic, rhythmic blues piano to the CD, additionally. The sound, overall, is just right.

Montgomery’s voice and style, if you haven’t seen him live (such as with his Mo City Jumpers), are somewhat similar to a young Tom Waits,’ especially on the ballads, such as on “Lonely Kansas City Night.” However, Montgomery is more melodic than Waits.

Overall, this is an album that grooves hard, has good lyrics, and has a full sound. It’s a KC blues album to be proud of—and to find and listen to. Go get yours.

Kevin Rabas

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