Thursday, August 24, 2023

Coco Montoya - Writing On The Wall

If you’re a fan of classic electric blues stylings, then this album by Coco Montoya may be just the ticket.  Let’s face it, as an alumnus of John Mayall’s bands in days gone by, Montoya should know what he’s doing in this musical sphere – and Writing On The Wall confirms that he does.
Opener ‘I Was Wrong’ is a archetypal slow-ish blues, with a lyric that pleads for forgiveness complemented by stinging but conversational guitar licks, and an interesting arrangement featuring some staccato segments and flutterings of organ adding colour in the background. And Montoya goes on to confirm his chops in this department with both ‘Stop’ and ‘What Did I Say?’. The Lonnie Mack slow blues ‘Stop’ is nothing special as a song, but it’s still sensitively delivered,
Coco Montoya - "Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go!"
Pic by Victoria Smith
with an expressive solo from Montoya that’s augmented by organ from Jeff Paris. And ‘What Did I Say?’ is even better, a smoochy ballad that has echoes of the Clapton/Cray tune ‘Old Love’, with controlled playing and tone from Montoya, and a sincere, contemplative vibe that puts me in mind of Walter Trout in slowie mode.
It's not all solemn fare though, and in a more upbeat vein a couple of the highlights are Frankie Miller’s ‘Be Good To Yourself’ and the title track.  ‘Be Good To Yourself’ is suitably lively, and just about lives up to Miller’s version, though Frankie probably had a touch more personality vocally. Meanwhile ‘Writing On The Wall’ underlines Montoya’s range, with a JJ Cale-like country-ish feel founded on shuffling drums from Rena Beavers, and featuring acoustic guitar, honky tonk piano, and a piercing guitar solo from multi-instrumentalist co-conspirator Paris, while Montoya contributes a rasping vocal.
‘Save It For The Next Fool’ is bright and bouncing too, with an undulating bass line from Nathan Jones bringing extra suppleness to the laid back rhythm, while some neat and playful Montoya soloing emulates novel lyrics like “You can’t talk the jam back in the jar”.  And there’s much fun to be had too on the Chicago R’n’B stylings of the Don Robey song ‘You Got Me (Where You Want Me), with Montoya duelling with Ronnie Baker Brooks on guitar in fine fashion, over tripping drums.
Songs like ‘(I’d Rather Feel) Bad About Doin’ It’ and ‘Baby, You’re A Drag’ may be a bit lightweight, but in the former case it’s still a neatly loose and funky shuffle, with producer Tony Braunhagel taking over the drum stool as it delivers some humorous takes on biblical episodes.‘Late Last Night’ is a simple but satisfying slice of mid-tempo boogie, a tale of a night on the tiles for which the title is a serious understatement, with a sparkling guitar solo to partner neat lines like “I climbed Blueberry Hill, sure enough got my thrill”.
The album closes with two more songs that go down melancholy and sunny roads respectively.‘The Three Kings And Me’ is a mellow reflection on being alone at Christmas – sounding a bit out of place as I’m listening to it in August – apart from the music of the titular three Kings on the stereo, with subtle guitar remarks and a couple of nods to ‘Winter Wonderland’ along the way.  Contrastingly, ‘Natural Born Love Machine’ is a breezy strut with a swinging chorus, in which the narrator reflects that he’s punching above his weight with a sexy woman.
Writing On The Wall is a good solid album, with numerous highlights and no out-and-out duds. Credit is due to Montoya and his writing partners Jeff Paris and Dave Steen for fashioning ten enjoyable originals to go with the three covers, and overall it’s assembled admirably (and economically) under the direction of producer Braunhagel.  It’s not an album to shake your foundations, but it should make you nod along with satisfaction.
Writing On The Wall is released by Alligator Records on 1 September.

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