Cuban-Canadian harmonica ace Carlos del Junco takes an often misunderstood instrument for some radical and cool U-turns and tangents on his sixth album.
Mongrel Mash, recorded in Toronto with del Junco’s band the Blues Mongrels, is a deceiving disc in an off-hand, daring fashion.
From the start, the expectations are of a genre-specific sound, specifically blues-based jam rock like the opening cut The Crazy Bastard, a John Scofield-type jazz-funk jam track. Harp/guitar interplay with del Junco and axeman Kevin Breit is raw and somehow sloppy and tight at the same time.
Then it’s on to a rootsy track that drifts dreamily and lazily through some harmonica-induced daze (My Favourite Uncle).
The only fly in the ointment among these tracks is Mojo, a blues-jam standard heard way too many times everywhere. Ignore that cut because this is “up” music and del Junco points his harp towards the moon.
Del Junco’s considered a harmonica virtuoso, admittedly an acquired taste for some who’ve seen too many harp players sit in on a Sunday afternoon jam and play over everything. No, del Junco takes an expansionist approach evoking humorous, weird and funky sounds that move the song and the vibe along.
From the fourth song onward, the album is a surprise –– not only for the warmth and intimacy of the “off-the-floor” recording method but for the moods and styles.
It’s a friendly sounding disc and that’s hard to achieve when playing such advanced forms.
Jazz-type grooving is done (Heddon Tad Polly Spook) in a good-time, almost off-hand manner.
An unclassifiable instrumental called The Field sounds like people following a joyful stream of consciousness melody. Then it’s on to the fun time –– a ‘60’s jazz bar track, Slick, with harp and sitar riffing carelessly away and the hip Mariachi.
These both have a grainy irreverent mood, especially the mischievous Mariachi, which sounds unexpected and not very mariachi-like. Good times!
The music is harmonica-centric but moves well beyond any limitations, however arbitrarily imposed. Where do you go if you want to expand? Go here, like Carlos.
Dean Gordon-Smith is The Morning Star’s music reviewer.