Reading the ‘Writing On The Wall’

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Coco Montoya (Photo by Victoria Smith)

You can hear the fondness in Coco Montoya’s voice when he remembers performances in Western and Central New York.

Admittedly, some of that might be the memories of food.

“Syracuse and Rochester, at Dinosaur (Bar-B-Que), that was our place,” says Montoya, an award-winning blues guitarist. “I’m here to make people dance and have a good time and that’s always easier when all you can eat barbecue is in the picture.”

Montoya returns to the area next Wednesday for a show at Fanatics Pub featuring music off his new album, “Writing On The Wall.”

“I love that we have it on vinyl. You can really call it an ‘album’ now. It feels like ‘My gosh, we’ve come full circle,’” Montoya says, recalling early memories of stealthily pinching doo-wop and rock and roll records from his mother or older siblings.

“Writing On The Wall” itself is unequivocally blues in timbre and tone with songs both about being wrong and being done wrong. While “Save It For The Next Fool” is a reminder of the pain and lessons of past lies in a relationship, “(I’d Rather Feel) Bad About Doin’ It” celebrates moments of sinful indulgence.

The album’s sound is classic blues combined with Montoya’s particular hard-edged guitar that both can still dexterously rip into a solo or provide the sonic backbone to a tune.

It still finds ways to incorporate other musical inspirations including soul and R&B sensibilities. The playfully teasing track, “Baby You’re A Drag”, features guitar and vocals from Ronnie Baker Brooks, son of Chicago bluesman Lonnie Brooks, and accomplished musician in his own right.

“There’s a lot of different influences. Whatever’s right for the mood of the song, that’s how we do things,” Montoya says.

In some ways, inspiration for the album was born out of necessity and circumstance. When the pandemic shut down venues, Montoya says he was forced to do some songwriting. Working with band members Jeff Paris and Dave Steen over Zoom sessions, the group wanted to have something to show for their time away from the stage.

“We were getting a little nest egg of songs during that time,” Montoya says. “We love what we got, everyone really stepped up to the plate and, without them, there wouldn’t be any album.”

“Writing On The Wall” was done with Montoya’s road band and not “studio cats”, as the musicians refer to them. Montoya says his familiarity with Paris and Steen, who play keyboards and rhythm guitar respectively, as well as with bassist Nathan Brown and drummer Rena Beavers, is one of the reasons it sounds so good.

The show at Fanatics Pub is part of a larger tour Montoya is excited to be on, especially after the pandemic. Crowds have been enthusiastic and energetic in part, the musician believes, because of the lockdown era.

Montoya is still game for the touring life.

“I won’t be out there winning any running races,” the 72-year old says. “But as long as I can keep moving and playing, I’ll be out there.”

Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer and data journalist. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

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