At times on Dirty Deal, it's virtually a Little Feat reunion, with five members from the classic lineup helping out on "Three Sides to Every Story," giving it a wonderful, funky momentum. Coco Montoya himself is definitely a better-than-average guitarist and singer when it comes to the R&B/blues axis, although he's at his best on tracks like "How Do You Sleep at Night?" where he has the chance to pull more emotion from his instrument; in this case, more than a touch of bitterness. He's cut from the same cloth as Robert Cray, but without the same soulful subtlety. Montoya is more a shot and a beer than a smooth cocktail. You come away from this with the sense that he holds nothing back, and even a performance in the studio would be sweaty; there's that amount of commitment. And while he may not be one of the guitar gods, when he unleashes a flurry of notes (as on "It Takes Time") he's still a powerhouse. Perhaps the biggest problem is that, although he cranks in all departments, there's very little to really distinguish his music from many others mining the same seam.
Coco Montoya's often ferocious guitar is the main reason to acquire this 1997 release. His singing is expressive and reasonably effective, but it is his blazing guitar soloing that makes one wish that he would record a full set of instrumentals; "Cool Like Dat" is a real cooker. Montoya performs some soul, R&B, and even country-tinged music on the set, but he is at his best on the blues, particularly the B.B. King-inspired "Do What You Want to Do." Although his backup band is fine, this interesting if not quite essential release is primarily a showcase for the passionate Montoya. Recommended in particular to fans of the rock side of the blues.
With his second album Ya Think I'd Know Better, Coco Montoya ditches the guest stars and opts for a menu of pure, unadulterated Montoya. The results are quite impressive, to say the least. For the moment, overlook his somewhat pedestrian vocals and just concentrate on his scintillating guitar work. It's no secret that Montoya cultivated a reputation as one of the finest guitarists of the '80s and '90s through his session work, but even those familiar with his gutsy, electrifying style will be taken aback by the stylistic variety and musical depth on Ya Think I'd Know Better. Montoya even pulls skunk-hot solos out of the most predictable blues-rockers, while his smoldering solos on slower numbers like "Dyin' Flu" are passionate and moving. Best of all, Coco puts down his electric for acoustic romps like the earthy "Hiding Place." In short, Ya Think I'd Know Better answers the question whether Coco Montoya is a vital bluesman for the '90s, and the answer is an emphatic "yes!"
Years of apprenticeship with Albert Collins and John Mayall paid off handsomely for Montoya on this debut effort. Even with help from some famous friends (Debbie Davies, Al Kooper, Richie Hayward [Little Feat], and both former employers), Montoya asserts himself as the focal point. Sadly, this was one of Collins' last studio appearances before his death, playing on the Lowell Fulson-penned "Talking Woman Blues" (commonly known as "Honey Hush"). Although Montoya showcases his massive guitar muscle, it is merely a fraction of the power of his live performances.
Coco Montoya's second album for Alligator records finds the guitarist moving away from the sound of his mentor, Albert Collins – although there certainly are licks throughout the album clearly inspired by "the Iceman," particularly when the tempo slows down – and toward big rock productions. This album sounds huge: The rhythm section provides a gigantic foundation, sprawling from speaker to speaker, then the keyboards and backing vocals are added, with guitars pushed to the forefront. On top of that, Montoya is demonstrating a greater inclination to soul and R&B than ever before, choosing to cover Holland-Dozier-Holland (a terrific take on "Something About You"), along with other tuneful soul tunes, and writing it that vein as well.
Montoya's first solo disc for Alligator finds the former Albert Collins sideman following in the doorsteps of his "godfather" with an album simply top-heavy with fiery guitar work and comfortable vocals. The production from Jim Gaines is as fat as any modern-day blues record has a right to be, and Montoya does not disappoint at any moment along the ride. He tips his hat to his old employer on Collins' "Get Your Business Straight," but the stronger tunes here come from Coco's own pen, like the closing "Nothing But Love." A strong and solid effort that also sounds great in the car when you're driving a little faster than the speed limit allows.