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CD Review -- Coco Montoya

COCO MONTOYA

The Essential Coco Montoya

Blind Pig Records

Coco Montoya CD art

By Linda Cain

The first time I gave this disc a spin, my reaction was: “Wow! What a great album.”  It wasn’t until I read the back cover that I realized this was a “Best of” collection, not a new Coco CD. My second reaction was to pull Coco’s previous Blind Pig CDs from my cabinet and give them a listen. Since each of the guitarist/singer/songwriter’s three Blind Pig CDs are so outstanding, filled with so many excellent songs and performances, my third reaction was, “what a tough job the label had in trying to narrow this collection down to a mere dozen songs.”

It was a tough job, indeed, and someone needed to do it. Nice guy that he is, Coco himself took on the task of selecting which songs would make it to this Essential Collection, on the label that launched his solo career 15 years ago (after serving as a protégé of both Albert Collins and John Mayall before that). Later on, Montoya signed  with Alligator Records for two discs and he  recently hooked up with Germany’s Ruf Records. Coco’s debut on that label is being produced by none other than Keb’ Mo’.

The Essential Coco Montoya includes cuts that encompass a variety of styles from his 1995, critically-acclaimed debut Gotta Mind to Travel, 1996’s Ya Think I’d Know Better  and his third CD, 1997’s Just Let Go.

Songs from Gotta Mind to Travel include “Am I Losing You”, “Too Much Water”, “Same Dog” and “You Don’t Love Me”. This debut solo CD earned him four W.C. Handy nominations, plus the award for Best New Blues Artist.

Ya Think I’d Know Better contributes “Seven Desires”, “Monkey See, Monkey Do” and “You’d Think I’d Know Better By Now”.  Coco’s sophomore disc paired him with Stevie Ray’s producer, Jim Gaines with great sounding results

Just Let Go tracks are: “Fear No Evil”, “Sending Me Angels”, “Do What You Want To Do”, “Just Let Go” and “Give It To A Good Man”. Once again the Montoya/Gaines team, plus stellar studio bandmates, prove a winning combination

Essential successfully serves to exemplify Coco’s considerable talents as a versatile, impassioned guitarist, soulful singer and top-notch songwriter – a true triple threat. The songs hang together well and they don’t sound dated, thanks to the excellent production throughout.  My only quibble is that they should have included the two collaborations with his former mentors, John Mayall and the late Albert Collins, from the first CD.

That said, let me sing the praises of this artist. Thanks to his apprenticeships as a guitarist with two blues legends, Coco has honed his guitar skills to scintillating perfection. Whether playing a tender gospel flavored ballad like “Sending Me Angels” or a rip-roaring Collins blues blaster “Do What You Want To Do”, the man nails it with flair, fluidity, creativity and emotion.

            And he’s a wonderful singer, whose style can range from deep, powerful and gritty, to sad and haunting, to smooth and sexy. Coco truly pours his heart into every note he sings to tell you the story. His soulful vocals are certain to grab your attention and draw you into the song.

The Essential Coco Montoya is by no means the whole enchilada when it comes to defining an artist with this much talent.  This collection can be seen as a very tasty guacamole starter to whet your appetite for more of this man’s music. If you enjoy the first course, you’ll want to indulge in a full Montoya meal and perhaps splurge on his solo CD menu. And for dessert you can order up his early work with Collins and Mayall. Bon appétit!

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