Coco Montoya was born in 1951 and grew up in a working class Mexican family in Southern California. He listened to a variety of music while he grew up ranging from big band jazz to rock and roll. He was playing drums at the age of 11 and after seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan he was inspired to begin playing guitar a couple of years later. After connecting with Albert Collins and becoming his drummer he switched to guitar with the band as second guitarist. His proficiency on guitar got him hired by John Mayall as Walter Trout’s replacement for the Bluesbreakers in the mid 1980s. After a decade with Mayall, Montoya released his first solo album, Gotta Mind to Travel in 1995. Since that time he’s earned a place in the Pantheon of great Blues Rock Guitar players after the release of a dozen albums culminating with Writing on the Wall in 2023.
Writing On the Wall is Montoya’s sixth release on the Alligator record label and uses the same band that backs him on the road. The core band is comprised of Jeff Paris who wrote or co-wrote five of the songs on keyboards, Nathan Brown on bass and drummer Rena Beavers. Guitarists Ronnie Baker Brooks, Lee Roy Parnell and Dave Steen played on a few cuts and Steen wrote or co-wrote six of the songs with Montoya. The record producer was Tony Braunagel who also played drums on four cuts. The digital downloaded album contains thirteen cuts while the vinyl version only has eleven.
The opening two cuts were written by Dave Steen beginning with “I Was Wrong” which has Montoya passionately repenting the statement to his lover while his guitar peals reciprocate the identical emotion. “Save it For the Next Fool” opens with Paris’ keyboards and the chorus repeating the song title, reminiscent of a “Motown” Soul group. Coco’s raspy vocals spit out the lyrics while his guitar explodes with stinging peals following the danceable beat of the driving rhythm section. Don Robey wrote “You Got Me (Where You Want Me)” and it was first recorded by Bobby (Blue) Bland in 1958. Montoya dives right into it and drives it home with a rocking performance as Coco and Brooks trade licks.
Keyboardist Jeff Paris penned “(I’d Rather Feel) Bad About Doin’ It,” a jazzy change of tempo that explores the “play now, pay later” lifestyle choice. “Be Good to Yourself” was written and recorded on a solo album by English artist Andy Fraser in 1975 and re-recorded multiple times. He was a member of “Free” and wrote songs for the band and other songs recorded by artists like Joe Cocker and Rod Stewart. Montoya catches the spirit of 1970’s rock with his interpretation of the song.
“Now be good to yourself
Every day and every night”
“Stop” was written and first recorded by Lonnie Mack in 1985 and appears on his Strike Like Lightning album. It’s a heart rending blues torch song that delves deep into the emotional turmoil of love using titillating guitar notes hitting stratospheric regions coupled with pleading vocals. “Writing on the Wall” is the title song and was co-written by Montoya, Paris and Steen. Multi-instrumentalist Paris takes a lead with his keyboards and joins in on vocals to make it a rollicking ivory tickling adventure. Montoya and Paris collaborated on “Late Last Night” which opens with driving keyboards and escalates to a power quartet with Coco spitting out vocals that he re-interprets as guitar notes. His deep muscular voice entices the listener while the dancing guitar notes entice it further.
“What Did I Say?” was another composition co-written by Montoya and Paris and is vocally driven. The song explores the disintegration of a relationship with pleading vocals and delicate guitar notes. Dave Steen and his son Drew composed the honky-tonk sounding “A Chip and a Chair.” It’s a rocker with Lee Roy Parnell on slide guitar and Dave Steen adding his driving rhythm guitar to the musical stew. “Baby, You’re a Drag” is a tongue and cheek Montoya and Steen collaboration that once again includes Ronnie Baker Brooks on guitar. It’s the last song on the vinyl version of the album.
Two additional bonus songs are included on the digital download beginning with Dave Steen’s composition “The Three Kings and Me.” The three kings keeping Coco company on Christmas aren’t Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar but Albert, BB and Freddie. The song is a mellow relaxed slow tune sung with passion and delicate guitar picking. The title of “Natural Born Love Machine” sounds like a James Brown tune and was written by Montoya and Paris. It was propelled by a combination of Paris’ pounding piano and Montoya punctuating his vocals with guitar peals.
The album is a showcase of Coco Montoya’s latest “career-defining performance” from “I Was Wrong” to “Natural Born Love Machine.” The recording took place in Jeff Paris’ studio where the band found its comfort zone and performed with precision. The album is filled with sonically soaring blues rock that leaves the ears ringing with joy.
The Review 9/10
– I Was Wrong
– Save It For the Next Fool
– You Got Me (Where You Want Me)
– A Chip and a Chair
The Big Hit
– You Got Me (Where You Want Me)
Buy the album: Amazon