Coco Montoya,
I Want It All Back
(Ruf, 2010)

Coco Montoya is a blues-circuit veteran who learned his trade in the bands of Albert Collins and John Mayall before going solo in the 1990s, cutting discs for Blind Pig and Alligator. I Want It All Back, his first for Ruf, is not a wildly ambitious album ablaze with hot licks and temple-thumping bombast. To the contrary, without ever falling into the banally mellow, it soothes and gratifies. It goes for the feeling, which is to say heartache over headache; the album is long on sagas of romantic disappointment. Though his skill as a guitarist is never in doubt, it's Montoya's warm, emotion-drenched vocals that do the captivating.

His blues is not your standard-issue modern electric stuff, but an amalgamation of related genres, prominently 1960s-style r&b and soul, with Latin spices dropped judiciously into the mix. He and his producers (Keb' Mo' and Jeff Paris) choose 11 cuts, only one penned by Montoya (with two co-writers), and each is a marvel of concise lyric and melody. The lean soul-blues band behind him takes the songs aloft, flying them through dark or sunny skies with the sort of deceptive ease available only to seasoned musical pilots.

I have long been partial to the Buster Brown classic "Fannie Mae," which -- in addition to its other manifest virtues -- strikes my ears as being at least a cousin to the traditional "Corrine Corrina." Montoya is too much his own man to lay down a lazy recreation of Brown's brassy arrangement. Here, guitar and harmonica (Rod Piazza) do the heavy lifting, and none of the energy is lost in the process. If it's not much like the other material in its punch-drunk momentum, it is surely a happy choice and a joyful diversion.

I Want It All Back (named after the second cut, a David Steen song) has an obvious romantic reference, but I suspect it also alludes to a time in Montoya's life -- and in many of our lives -- when popular music felt more accessible, friendly, and personal than it does now. On this album Montoya conjures up a modern urban roots sound so blissfully realized that it's led me often to the CD player for yet another exposure. If he hasn't reinvented anything, he's done very nicely by a lot of old things; not only that, he's found something new to put into them. I for one can't imagine how one would go about complaining about that.

review by
Jerome Clark

8 May 2010

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