In the winter of 1995, I remember on an outing to New Yorks Upper East Side to meet up with a cousin to go to Mannys Car Wash. Located on 87th St. & 3rd Avenue, Mannys Car Wash was the pre-eminent Blues Venue in New York City, attracting major Blues acts from everywhere. A funky blacked out shell with exposed plywood flooring, a tin ceiling and a long beautiful bar set the environment for nights of soulful reverence of capable Blues artists. Many were the nights we handed over our $7 or $10 admission to see the likes of Rory Block, Hiram Bullock, Jimmy Vivino, Al Kooper, Poppa Chubby, Bill Perry, Chris Duarte, Hubert Sumlin, Tommy Castro; the list goes on and on. On that night we are on a mission to see CoCo Montoya, a Guitar slinger of note supporting his first knockout Blind Pig release Gotta Mind To Travel It is to this day one of the most memorable night of Blues I have spent in what was a great Blues Bar!
Since that evening in 1995, I have followed Cocos career, his exemplary body of work consisting of 5 albums on Blind Pig then Alligator Records, and have seen him perform on 5 other occasions supporting each of his releases. The bottom line here is CoCo Montoya is the real deal.
His 30 years in the music industry, and having played drums and then guitar with the late Blues Giant, Albert Collins, whom he revered and then to become a part of the Guitar Svengali, John Mayall, putting his name right next to other guitar luminaries who preceded him like Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton.
His latest release, Cant Look Back punctuates that thought emphatically. I would have to say that as a body of material, it joins Chicago Blues (Cant See The Streets For my Tears & Holding Out For You,) R&B (I Wont Beg, Cant Look Back) Contemporary Blues (Trip Stumble & Fall) Blues Rock (I Wish I Could Be That Strong,) together, making it an eclectic offering of a more contemporary blues with broader appeal, though not for anyone who is not willing to really crank up the stereo and feel the room shake a little.
1. I Wish I Could Be That Strong This track stands as a shining example of what CoCo does so well. His use of Chorus effects, and palm muted rhythms, set in front of Scott Kirkpatricks exemplary drum work, make this my first choice to toss in the car cd player and just drive! Tasteful well-executed guitar solos are a CoCo trademark visited yet once more in the first track CoCos latest. Lyrics hit home if anyone has ever let pride get into the way of taking down the walls that often get built in relationships. CoCo delivers his powerful trademark vocal work, making it a favorite of mine.
2. Running Away From Love Sensuous rhythms and melodic guitar stabs accentuate this contemporary offering from Coco and his band of blues journeymen. Thematic throughout Coco Montoyas music are tales of unrequited love and commitment as Running Away From Love tells the tale of a man who keeps avoiding serious relationships regardless of however good it may be for him to pursue. Cocos anthem to the common pitfalls of relationships is accentuated by a couple of stinging solos with that characteristic Stratocaster squawk so prevalent in his lyrical-like guitar work.
3. Something About You This tune will bring back memories from some of you old Four Tops fans, but only after Coco gets into the lyric. Yes his took a shiny golden oldie and polished it up with more of a contemporary blues rock tempo, putting his stamp on it with his beautifully executed pentatonic solo work, with background vocals by Chuck & Scott Kirkpatrick. I am always amazed at Montoyas ability to deliver a vocal with the authority he does and yet lending the lyrics the subtlety necessary to just make it easy to understand and get into. I like this one with the top down on a Saturday morning and a lot of highway ahead of me!
4. I Wont Beg Here CoCo has the girl, but he assures her he wont beg for her attention. The solo here is reminiscent of Dickey Betts early Allman Brothers (1970) Live At The Fillmore, as CoCo obviously pays tribute to his friend with a Southern Rock influenced tune whose lyrics, while cleverly written, are not necessarily the reason I listen to this tune. Its once more the beautifully crafted guitar playing that take stage center here.
5. Trip, Stumble and Fall CoCo and Benny Yee deliver a very funky intro to this song, accented with Randy Hayes rhythmic, almost, almost military, cadence in what is an unusually tasty combination of texture, composition, and tempo that explodes into a powerhouse tune putting all the key components of CoCos talent to work. The short bridge right into his solo is as brilliant as the rest of this very tasty composition.
6. Cant See The Streets For my Tears This tune represents the first time Coco goes to a standard blues format although more Duke Ellington or Billie Holliday than BB King with an edge. CoCos guitar work provides a really a subtle backdrop for expertly crafted lyrics, coming up front only for what can only be characterized as a beautiful solo accented by CoCos cry of pure feeling halfway through it. This one will give you the blues to be sure.
7. Same Old Thing Here you will hear a great deal of Albert Collins influence not only lyrically but signature Collins riffs are scattered throughout this tune that just makes you want to close your eyes and take a moment to enjoy what you are listening to. Horns uncharacteristically add much color and Motown/Stax feel to this raucous yet soulful song.
8. Cant Look Back Horns once more are key elements of this R&B influenced Signature Tune of this cd about the necessity to constantly move forward, avoiding looking back using a touring musicians metaphor to describe heartbreak.
9. Woman Have A Way With A Fool Fellas..the fix is in, A Womans had the upper hand, since the time of original sin
This tune is full of entertaining lyric that calls to mind an old Albert Collins lyric, A good fool is hard to find again showing homage to his late great mentor and adopted father. This is strictly a mans song warning of the pitfalls of vulnerability with a strong woman. Ouch! Does that really happen? Of course it is and this is CoCo Montoya 101, so sit down shut up and take notes, this is new blues happening. Someday youre the windshield, someday youre the fly
It doesnt get any better than that.
10. Back In A Cadillac Revenge is best served cold here as CoCo sings of a guy who had a little more romance than finance.
Freddie May the girl that I adore
Sent me packin in my Beat up Ford
Told me money was the thing that I lack
But I came back
in a Cadillac
She rode me hard, didnt cut me no slack
But now Im back..In a Cadillac
Hey fellas, we have all sang this one some time in our lives, and it is the redemption that CoCo celebrates here after someone has had their way with a fool. This one is another old school, blues theme with a serious injection of a fabulous musicians influence. This one speaks for itself.
11. No Longer A Part OF Your Dreams CoCo displays his prowess on slide guitar and I cannot help but think he had just listened to Bonnie Raitt as he wrote this one as her influence is so thick here. I can close my eyes and see Bonnie doing this one. Joe Subletts sax solo is rich and soulful adding yet another dimension to the versatility that this cd so expertly exhibits.
12. Holding Out For You This ballad, reminds me of Etta James from the beginning and nothing short of a good vocal is expected from you as you listen to the horns soulful entry into this track. Coco delivers just that. Ballads are easily the hardest material to write and not come off schmaltzy. This soulful love ballad, though simple, evokes thoughts of a lonely smoky roadhouse late into the bands last set, with too many empties on the bar.
13. Free As the final tune, we find Coco once again using metaphors to describe the freeing up of your soul after being slave to a bad feeling. The instrumentation of this tune is hard and heavy-handed, and perhaps ranks as the only one on the cd I have yet to warm up to. Vocals are artfully delivered and the band is tight, but the chemistry is wrong, so far, for my ears.
This in its own unique presentation is a collection of love songs with widely dissimilar themes but all very entertaining and presented with a unique and edgy performance by a master of Contemporary blues, CoCo Montoya. Jim Gaines produces once more adding Coco to his long list of production credits including Booker T & the MGs, Steve Miller Band, Santana (Supernatural), Tower Of Power and Stevie Ray Vaughn.
FYI. Crank this one up and have a little fun.
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Great Music to Play While: Driving