Carlos del Junco,
Mongrel Mash
(NorthernBlues, 2011)

If you aren't familiar with Carlos del Junco's work, you're welcome to make his acquaintance now. Widely considered to be one of the top harmonica players in the world by blues enthusiasts, Carlos del Junco has quite an impressive resume, including the titles of Harmonica Player of the Year -- seven times by the Canadian Maple Blues' Awards -- and the 1993 Hohner World Harmonica Championship gold medalist in both diatonic blues and jazz categories. However all these accolades only barely begin to do him justice, as demonstrated by his 2011 album Mongrel Mash.

Mongrel Mash is a top-notch mixture of jazz and blues with even a twist of samba on one track. Featuring guitarist Kevin Breit, of Norah Jones fame, this collaboration works terrifically, both as a complete album and an assortment of individual songs. While the first few songs have more of a Southern-rock feel to them, reminiscent of earlier Allman Brothers work, the later tracks branch off into a variety of genres. Among these are original roots blues, courtesy of a swingin' track called "Slick," the aforementioned samba on the instrumental "Mariachi" and a jazzy tune called "A Fool's Alibi" that I challenge you not to groove to.

One of the requirements to be a blues master is to cover at least a handful of traditional blues songs; most commonly are "Sittin' on Top of the World," "Smokestack Lightnin'," "Little Red Rooster" and "Got My Mojo Workin'," the latter of which del Junco conquers on this album. He shortens the title to simply "Mojo," but otherwise does nothing to significantly alter the classic versions. However all great covers require the artist to add their own twist to the song, a condition del Junco undeniably meets. He then strays off from the blues to a few more lighthearted and relaxing tracks before knocking the listeners' socks back off with "Slick." The only weak spot on this album is a slow number titled "The Field," squeezed in the middle of the nine tracks. By no means a deal-breaker, "The Field" simply needed to be moved to a different position in the track order, such as toward the end. Otherwise an overall kickass piece of work, Mongrel Mash is guaranteed to impress even the most stubborn of blues enthusiasts.

music review by
Bryan Frantz

4 June 2011

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