Release date: Sept. 1, 2023
By Mark Baier
Coco Montoya / photo: Victoria Smith
Veteran road warrior Coco Montoya brings his endlessly inventive guitar playing and soul-deep vocals to the forefront for his sixth release for Alligator, Writing on the Wall. Montoya himself calls the recording “the best I’ve ever made,” a sentiment no doubt fueled by the presence of his road tested band backing him on each track. Having his closest musical allies at his side in the recording studio results in a seamless, musical telepathy seldom captured on vinyl. Keyboardist and songwriter Jeff Paris (Keb’ Mo, Bill Withers), bassist Nathan Brown and drummer Rena Beavers form the core into which Montoya pours his exciting, heartfelt vocals and powerfully melodic guitar playing.
Writing on the Wall opens with “I Was Wrong,” a hard-hitting minor blues that would make Otis Rush take notice. The guitar lines are melodic and biting; soaring with mournful crescendos, they are matched only by the rough-edged silkiness of Montoya’s vocals. He sings with a passion and emotional depth that elevate him to the top level of blues-rock performers. Writing is filled with high energy cuts like “Save it for the Next Fool” (a live favorite), Jeff Paris’ “(I’d Rather Feel) Bad About Doin’ It” and Montoya’s gripping reinvention of Lonnie Mack’s classic “Stop.” Despite it being an old standard, Coco’s vocals on “Stop” take flight and the guitar lines ascend to meet them.
It may have never sounded this fresh!
“I am so proud of this one,” Montoya says of new album. “We recorded in Jeff Paris’ studio and everything just jelled together. And the band inspired me; they all gave extra effort at every turn. Jeff, Nathan and Rena played so great; they made me play even harder. They made me sound better than I am!”
While every cut on the disc is stellar, the title track is a standout, showcasing crisp songwriting and top-shelf production. Also of note is Texas guitarist Lee Roy Parnell contributing silky smooth slide stabs on the gambler’s tale “A Chip and a Chair.” Chi-town favorite Ronnie Baker Brooks is featured trading 8s and vocals on “You Got Me (Where You Want Me)” and “Baby, You’re a Drag.”
For over five decades, Coco Montoya has dedicated his life to spreading the gospel of the blues. From his internship with Albert Collins and his decade long stay with John Mayall’s legendary Bluesbreakers to his debut as a bandleader in 1995, Montoya made it clear that he was one of the top ranked players on the scene.
It’s now 23 years since his first Alligator release and he has lost none of the passion and exuberance that turned the heads of the masters. With the dynamic new release and a touring schedule that’s seemingly non-stop, he is as excited and proud as he’s ever been to perform these new songs with his white-hot band.
Montoya is a powerful and authentic performer, guitarist and songwriter. In a world littered with wanna-be’s, Coco Montoya is the real thing. Very Highly Recommended!
About the Author: Mark Baier is the founder and owner of Victoria Amplifier Co., manufacturers of professional vacuum tube guitar amplifiers for stage and studio.