Ruf Records – 2014
CD 1: 7 tracks; 55 minutes. CD2: 7 tracks; 63 minutes.
The latest in Ruf’s “Songs From The Road” sees experienced singer and guitarist Coco Montoya featured with his regular road band of Brant Leeper (keys and vocals), Rena Beavers (drums and vocals) and Nathan Brown (bass) on excellent live set recorded in Seattle across two nights in August 2013 and produced by Jim Gaines. Ruf often issues a CD/DVD package but on this occasion we get two CDs, so no viewing the players but you do get a lot more music in the package than usual.
The set provides compelling evidence of what a great back catalogue Coco has and the material has clearly been selected to give listeners a broad taste of Coco’s abilities with songs chosen from across his career, most of Coco’s albums being represented here. In fact the only obvious gap in his discography was a live album, so this neatly fills that hole! Coco had a hand in writing seven of the tracks here, including two written with Doug McLeod (a former Blues Blast Award winner) and three with David Steen. Covers inevitably include an Albert Collins tune as Coco always pays respect to the man who taught him to play guitar and encouraged his early career.
In fact CD1 opens with Gwen Collins’ “I Got A Mind To Travel” and Coco’s debt to Albert’s style is immediately evident here: Brant’s swirling organ solo is the central feature but Coco takes a solo late on that is very much in Albert’s style. Two other tracks come from Coco’s debut CD as he plays sets of cascading notes in wonderfully relaxed style on his and Doug McLeod’s “Too Much Water” and hits a great groove on an extended version of his own composition “Love Jail” that gives both Coco and Brant plenty of solo space.
Three cuts from his most recent studio album “I Want It All Back” appear, including the summer beach sounds of The Penguins’ “Hey Señorita”, a spare and appealing version of Smokey Robinson’s “The One Who Really Loves You” and “Don’t Go Making Plans”, a co-write with Little Feat’s Paul Barrère and Roger Cole which is suitably funky and rhythmic with some super bass playing from Nathan. “I Wish I Could Be That Strong” closes the first disc in fine, anthemic style with Coco’s strong vocal and solo.
On CD2 there are lots of highlights, none better than the barnstorming version of “I Need Your Love In My Life” (a Coco original once covered by Solomon Burke). There is plenty of variety here: “My Side Of The Fence” is a classic shuffle whilst the catchy “I Won’t Beg” has almost reggae overtones, especially in the organ solo.
The pleading ballad “Good Days, Bad Days” is given a lengthy treatment which gives solo space to bassist Nathan and Brant on piano as well as plenty of opportunity for Coco to play in very relaxed mood. Another gentle track is “I Want It All Back”, the title track of Coco’s last studio album which is beautifully played with superb harmonies from his band members and a striking solo from Coco before he thanks the stage crew and introduces his band members.
A further reprise from that same album is Buster Brown’s “Fannie Mae” which is played a little more slowly than on the studio version, providing a chugging shuffle intro to disc 2. Coco closes the CD by looking back to his 1996 album in “You’d Think I’d Know Better By Now”, the second collaboration with Doug McLeod here. This one is a classic mid-paced blues with some solid ensemble playing, Brant switching from organ accompaniment to rolling piano in his solo and Coco coming back in on slide to show us another side to his playing.
Coco Montoya has been around for a long time, playing with John Mayall before starting his solo career. This double set demonstrates the full range of Coco’s abilities and with his excellent band behind him it is a thoroughly entertaining listen, recommended to anyone who has enjoyed any of Coco’s studio albums or would make an ideal place to start for anyone new to Coco – highly recommended!