Coco Montoya / Ronnie Baker Brooks

The Northern Lights Theater 1721 W Canal Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 53233
Price: $35/$30/$25

Thursday, March 12 at 8 p.m.

Coco Montoya

“In a world of blues guitar pretenders, Coco Montoya is the real McCoy. He exudes power and authenticity. Be prepared to get scorched by the real thing.” –Billboard

“Coco Montoya sings and plays with passionate abandon.” –The Boston Globe

Between his white-hot guitar playing and his soulful, emotional vocals, Coco Montoya has talent to burn. In a career that spans almost four decades, he’s gone from drumming for blues icon Albert Collins to holding the lead guitar spot in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers to leading his own band and touring worldwide. Montoya is revered for his ability to move from subtly melodic guitar playing to slash-and-burn pyrotechnics. Equally forceful are his deep, soul-baring vocals. Years of constant touring, playing unforgettable shows at clubs, concert halls and festivals, have earned him his position at the top of the contemporary blues world.

When Montoya launched his solo career in 1993, he already had an instantly recognizable burning-hot sound and style all his own. His debut album solidified his stature as the blues’ newest rising star. Over the course of his nine previous solo albums, Montoya has consistently delivered piping hot blues, rock and soul. His new album (his fifth for Alligator), Coming In Hot, is another instant classic. Montoya’s fiery, melodic guitar playing and passionate vocals fuel one memorable song after another. Guitar Player says Montoya plays “stunning, powerhouse blues with a searing tone, emotional soloing, and energetic, unforced vocals.”

Ronnie Baker Brooks

Brooks likes to treat each album he makes as a platform for him to grow, but the reality is that he’s been climbing the blues world’s ladder all his life. He started playing guitar around age six. At 19, he joined his father, who by then had influenced some of the most well-known bluesman of our history (Jimmy Reed, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Johnny Winter and Junior Wells). For 12 years the two would tour together, putting Ronnie out front with Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, and Koko Taylor. In 1998, when he was 32, his father told him to go solo.

Baker already had a band by then, one he’d been touring on the side with since 1992. But by 1998 he’d started a label; that year he made his first album, Golddigger, 16 songs tracked out in two weeks. “My dad always said to keep writing, even if you don’t think the song sounds great or you can’t finish it,” says Baker. “Write. Continue to write. The more you write, the better you get.” Take Me Witcha came three years later; his second album on Watchdog Records. Brooks broke out as his own champion on 2006’s The Torch. The Boston Herald called it “ferocious and unrelenting … the year’s best blues album.”

In the ten years since The Torch, Brooks has started a family, toured North America and Europe, and taken feature spots on the records of other bluesmen. He produced Eddy Clearwater’s West Side Strut and contributed guitar work to albums from Elvin Bishop, the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Review, Billy Branch, and Big Head Todd.

Times Have Changed , Brooks’ first album in ten years, carries with it the weight of grown perspective and time spent perfecting old material. Brooks worked it with Steve Jordan, whose work runs from Keith Richard to Stevie Wonder, John Mayer and Eric Clapton.

“We used the same mics that Al Green used on his record,” says Brooks. “Matter of fact, we were using much of the same band! It kind of took that vibe.” The first track recorded was a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly hit “Give Me Your Love.” The second, “Twine Time,” the instrumental jam from Alvin Cash.

“To be honest with you, when Steve said ‘Man, we need an instrumental,’ the first person I thought of was Freddie King. Steve wanted something more appealing to all people, not just guitar players. He said ‘What about ‘Twine Time?’’ I said, ‘Is he serious?’ Yeah, ‘Twine Time.’ But that song was a key to this album. Man, that just lit the fire for this record. It became one of the funnest tracks we did.”

Times also comes laden with original hits. Five of the eleven tracks were penned by Brooks. Raised on others’ music, he’s always considered the songwriting process to be as sacred. “It’s like having a baby,” he says. “You see it come to live. Once you play it live, it grows even more....Like the song ‘Times Have Changed’: I wrote that song years ago....It’s kind of timeless. Every day something’s changing. Now, when I play it live, you can see the effect of it.”

It’s on that title track that Brooks brandishes what may be his finest songwriting talent: the ability to humanize social issues and unite different voices into one cohesive thought. That’s no more evident than in the latter stages of the song, in which Brooks deploys his longtime friend, Memphis' Al Kapone, to drop 32 bars on what the future holds for our people.

“My whole intention, when I started with Golddigger and up through this one, was to be authentic enough for the older generation but have something that the younger generation could latch onto,” says Brooks. “I try to be that bridge. With Tame Me Witcha, I’ve got a rapper on that. On The Torch we went with Al. He’s a bridge. He’s a bridge from blues to hip-hop. With music, it all comes from the heart. It comes from the heart and from the soul. It blues, it doesn’t matter what you’re talking about, it definitely relates....That was my intention on this record: to build that bridge.”