Two years after guitar slinger Coco Montoya returned to Chicago's Alligator label for Hard Truth, he follows with Coming in Hot. Montoya is one of the most prodigious and gifted electric bluesmen on the planet. He is a double threat as a deeply soulful singer and incendiary guitarist. Coming in Hot offers a kindred lineup to the one who knocked 2017's Hard Truth out of the park. Produced by drummer Tony Braunagel and engineered by Johnny Lee Schell (who helms the rhythm guitar chair on all but three tracks where Billy Watts guests), it also includes Mike Finnigan on keyboards, and bassist Bob Glaub on seven cuts (Mike Mennell sits in on the other four). The title number was co-composed by Montoya and Dave Steen, leading a compelling set of covers by Frankie Miller, Albert Collins, Warren Haynes, and the Phantom Blues Band, among others, including a reprise solo performance of "Witness Protection" originally cut by Allison August on her 2016 debut, Holy Water, with Montoya as a duet partner.
Diversity is the key as rockin' electric blues, vintage jump, and R&B-flavored jams showcase Montoya the singer -- he has become a true stylist over the last decade -- as much as they do as the powerhouse guitarist. Opener "Good Man Gone," by Tom Hambridge and Richard Fleming, is an up-tempo R&B-drenched blues, with Montoya shimmying along a taut groove backed by Kudisan Kai and Maxann Lewis on backing vocals as his stinging guitar adds ballast. Pianist Jon Cleary guests on the title cut (though he isn't mixed nearly loud enough) with a punchy, Chicago-style vamp; guitars are on stun, with Montoya's distorted fills and screaming solo matching the punched-up beat. "Stop Runnin' Away from My Love" is a souled-out nighttime shuffle with Finnigan dropping meaty chord voicings on a Wurlitzer in support of Montoya's stellar vocal, while his fills and vamps push him deep into the lyrics. The guitarist revives Collins' slow-burning "Lights Are on But Nobody's Home," with a snaky set of fills underscoring the emotion in his singing. There is room for the atypical too. Montoya's reading of Haynes' Americana-esque soul in "What Am I?" recalls the Allman Brothers, while Miller's classic "Trouble" offers a more electric arrangement in doing justice to the original. This take on "Witness Protection" is spookier, edgier, and rawer than the version with August. As a whole, Coming in Hot is full of surprises, from the terrific song selection and inspired performances to uncharacteristically warm production and Montoya's seemingly endless penchant for invention. In sum then, after 40 years, this album registers with his best as a bandleader.