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Coco Montoya is a guitar-wielding blues-rocker whose voice and songs are indistinguishable from those of a hundred other blues-rockers. But when Montoya launches into one of his extended guitar solos, you just can't help but crank that volume knob. By the end of the CD you’re hopping around the room playing air guitar while the neighbors are phoning you to turn down the music.
Born in Southern California, Montoya learned guitar from Albert Collins while toiling as Collins' drummer. Thanks to Collins’ tutoring, Montoya landed a job as John Mayall’s guitarist, a position formerly held by Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor. You don’t spend a decade as lead guitarist with Mayall and the Bluesbreakers unless you’re a bad-ass player, and Montoya is certainly that.
On the surface, Suspicion is a fairly run-of-the-mill release. Granted, the production by Jim Gaines is slick but unobtrusive, and the songs are sufficiently catchy. "I Need Your Love in My Life" has a summery Allman Brothers vibe about it. Collins’ "Get Your Business Straight" is a funky blues workout in which Montoya pays tribute to his mentor. "Beyond the Blues" rocks out passionately and has pointed lyrics about crime in the city. Montoya even dabbles in bluesy pop with Gary Nicholson’s "Good Days, Bad Days" and David Steen’s "Fool." A few tracks are enhanced by a three-piece horn section, and most feature electric keys. However, it’s Montoya’s wicked guitar playing that really carries the recording.
On "Fool," Montoya’s clean, jazzy lines almost sound like a Larry Carlton contribution to a Steely Dan album. On "Beyond The Blues," Montoya’s axe positively screams and wails. On "I Need Your Love In My Life," the guitarist dabbles in some Keith Richards-style riffing and some Southern rock filigrees.
To borrow a phrase from Dick Vitale, this guy can flat out play. Other critics have wished for an all-instrumental release from Montoya, and I’d like to jump on that bandwagon. His singing is good, but his guitar work is fabulous. Suspicion features too much of the former and not quite enough of the latter, but it should motivate any guitar lover to pump up the volume.
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.