Coco Montoya hits a home run in his 11th album, Writing on the Wall. This southpaw guitar master, who began as a drummer, is an alumnus of both Albert Collins’s and John Mayall’s bands. Montoya describes his philosophy as “Just play what you feel, be real about it, and enjoy yourself. That’s what Albert Collins taught me.”

For this outing — which he considers one of his best — he co-wrote five tracks and recorded with his touring band, comprising Jeff Paris (keyboards and guitar), Nathan Brown (bass) and Rena Beavers (drums). 

Like a detonation, Writing on the Wall ignites with “I Was Wrong,” a song of deep remorse. Montoya’s vocals are rough-edged; he comes in with a wail. His exquisite guitar is a flawless complement, packing a colossal emotive punch. ”Save It for the Next Fool” is a captivating number, animated with the the crystalline sound of his guitar. In the spirited rocker ”You Got Me (Where You Want Me),” Montoya puts his own spin on this Bobby ”Blue” Bland cover. With guest Ronnie Baker Brooks, the duo’s white-hot guitar duel is spine-tingling. Then “(I’d Rather Feel) Bad About Doin’ It” endorses the credo that it’s better to have regrets after an event than to not experience it at all. Montoya extends his best wishes to a former love in “Be Good to Yourself.” His guitar speaks to us as it impeccably enhances his vocals, like an exclamation point.

“Stop,” a Lonnie Mack number, is a stunner, both for Montoya’s passionate voice and scorching guitar. Each time he bursts in with his instrument, Montoya builds the song to a crescendo of intensity. His guitar solos here are transcendent, not to be missed. Jeff Paris’s piano brings a different flavour to “Writing on the Wall,” then he contributes a rousing guitar part to this upbeat rocker. In “Late Last Night,” Montoya sings of a musician belligerently excusing himself for bad behaviour, then his voice becomes silky as he gets mellow with “What Did I Say?” His lustrous guitar seduces the listener, perfectly accentuating the heartfelt lyrics. In “A Chip and a Chair,” we’re treated to guest Lee Roy Parnell’s ravishing slide. Accompanying Montoya’s snarling vocals, the two guitars smoke in this life lesson from a grandfather.

Ronnie Baker Brooks is back for “Baby, You’re a Drag,” a mirthful conversation in song that’s a joy in itself, but add their eloquent, searing guitar solos and it’s a special gift. “The Three Kings and Me” is a contemplative Christmas number about spending the holidays alone, listening to Freddie, Albert and B.B. In it, Montoya’s tender yet stirring vocals are punctuated by nuggets of superb guitar reminiscent of B.B. Montoya’s voice assumes a tinge of toughness with the album closer, ”Natural Born Love Machine.” His guitar here is as intoxicating as the irresistible woman he’s singing about.

Writing on the Wall is a tour de force of vocal versatility and guitar prowess. Whether delivered with grit or polish, Coco Montoya’s voice articulates the sentiment of every song. Ramping up the impact of the lyrics, his guitar fills exhilarate as they emphasize the message. And highlighting each number, his guitar solos are sublime, striking viscerally at one’s emotional core. (Sandra B. Tooze)