Alligator Records – 2017
11 tracks; 51 minutes
Between 2000-07 Coco Montoya recorded three albums for Alligator, then moved to Ruf and is now back with Alligator. Across eleven tracks there is plenty of Coco’s trademark guitar, backed by producer Tony Brauanagel who plays drums throughout with Mike Finnigan on keys, Bob Glaub on bass, Billy Watts or Johnny Lee Schell on rhythm guitar; the background vocalists include Mike, Billy, Deb Ryder and Teresa James and Lee Roy Parnell adds slide to one track. The songs include rock, soul and blues covers and three tunes by frequent collaborator Dave Steen, Coco getting a credit on two.
The opening three songs are simply terrific: “Before The Bullets Fly” was written by Warren Haynes and recorded by Gregg Allman but Coco completely owns the song with fine vocals and fluent guitar; “I Want To Shout About It” is as uplifting and joyous as Ronnie Earl’s original with exciting interplay between Coco’s lead and Johnny’s rhythm work and a superb Hammond solo from Mike; the cautionary tale of Dave Steen’s “Lost In The Bottle” races along fuelled by Lee Roy Parnell’s slide and Coco’s piercing leads. Mike Farris’ “Devil Don’t Sleep” takes us into a moodier place in which the organ swirls and the guitars ring menacingly. The soulful “I’ll Find Someone Who Will”, written by Terry Wilson and Theresa James, is a breakup song with a really catchy tune, Coco’s crisp and clean solo here being a highlight. A run through Homer Banks’ “Where Can A Man Go From Here?” shows that Coco can handle a soul ballad too, his voice having the right amount of vulnerability for such a song.
Coco always includes a tune from his mentor Albert Collins and “The Moon Is Full” has Johnny’s choppy rhythm work providing the backdrop to some great lead work from Coco. Coco’s two co-writes are “Hard As Hell”, a churning blues-rocker about “a sweet-talking Jezebel; there’s two sides to you, baby, and you know I never can tell”; the guitar interplay between Billy and Coco here is excellent. “Truth Be Told” has elements of funk and the Caribbean in its attractive rhythms and the album closes with an extended solo from Coco.
Coco is a wonderful live performer and is touring extensively to promote this album and every blues lover should catch his live show. Hard Truth stands comparison with his best work.