"Really outstanding. Carlos del Junco is happening!!!!!"
- Charlie Musselwhite
The traditional blues pairing of a simple guitar and a harmonica continues to offer a seemingly inexhaustible vein of musical ideas to mine, especially when those players are virtuosos on a level with Canada’s Jimmy Bowskill and Carlos Del Junco.
Opening with “Beale St. Toodle-oo”, one is struck immediately by ease and facility of each man’s playing. Bowskill’s adroit finger-picking constantly shifts rhythms and timbres underneath Del Junco’s singing harp licks while all the time the duo look to circle back to play the main head of the arrangement together.
Jimmy Bowskill is still only 26 years old, but he has packed a lot into the years since he first played at Jeff Healey’s Toronto club as an 11 year old, receiving his first Juno nomination at 13 and a Maple Blues Award in 2013 for New Artist Of The Year. He switches between acoustic and electric guitars with equal dexterity. On a boogie like “Heaven’s Where You’ll Dwell”, he dials in a dark and dirty overdriven tone that recalls the great Willie Johnson tones of the late 40s and early 50s. On the stomping “Confidence Man”, his powerful finger-picking hints at folk and early Led Zeppelin (and Del Junco’s delightfully bonkers harmonica solo even hints at Area Code 615’s “Stone Fox Chase”, in keeping with the slightly 70s-vibe of the track).
Havana-born Del Junco’s family emigrated to Canada when he was one. Also a multiple Juno nominee, his harmonica is a consistent delight, combining a sophisticated, warm tone with masterful melodies, all the time retaining a raw vulnerability.
Del Junco and Bowskill are both fine singers, although it might have been helpful if the CD had listed who was singing on which track. On the assumption that the tracks were recorded without overdubbing, it is presumably Bowskill singing on the ballad “Everybody Knows” and “Can’t Lose”, where his emotion is almost tangible.
Bowskill and Del Junco wrote or co-wrote five of the tracks on the CD. The covers are Kevin Cooke’s “Heaven’s Where You’ll Dwell”, Muddy Waters’ “You Can’t Lose What You Ain’t Never Had” (here re-titled “Can’t Lose”), John Lee Hooker’s “Hug You”, Mississippi John Hurt’s “Spike Driver Blues”, and Otis Spann’s “The Blues Don’t Like Nobody”. “Hug You” and “The Blues Don’t Like Nobody” are live recordings from 2014 whereas the other tracks were all recorded in the studio in 2015 and 2016.
The duo touch on a range of genres on BLUES ETC…from the primal boogie of “Hug You” and the slow blues of “Can’t Lose” to the pop of “If I Call Your Name” and the folk-rock of “Everybody Knows” and “Roll Away The Stone” with its harmonised vocal choruses and reverb-drenched electric guitar.
BLUES ETC… is a highly enjoyable album, played with emotional commitment and technical fluency whilst retaining a lightness of touch and spontaneity that reward repeated listening. Great stuff.
Rhys Williams - Blues Blast Magazine
(FOUR (out of 4) STARS
It's not likely that you'll ever hear the harmonica played so well and in so many different ways than at the hands of Cuban-born Torontonian Carlos del Junco. But what makes his album an especial treat is the sheer let's-do-it positive energy that radiates from the eclectic collection of nine tracks. Mongrel Mash refers to the crazy mix of styles, ranging from deep, heavy-duty blues-rock (“Mojo”) to Herb Alpert's slightly cheesy “Slick,” and jivin' “Lil' Laptop” to sweet, rootsy ballad “The Field,” which arrives via languid dobro set-up. Del Junco may be the headliner, but the songs and arrangements shine the light on an excellent band of equals who all get some time in the sonic spotlight. There is something here to put a smile on anyone's face — and it only gets better with each listen. My favourite: Del Junco's own “My Favourite Uncle,” a gently hip-swinging sweep down Louisiana way. Check out the band's CD release party at Hugh's Room on June 11.
John Terauds - TORONTO STAR
The blues harp ace is still not only rolling along, he’s taking pains to keep it fresh two decades in. Maybe ‘pains’ isn’t the right word as nothing here seems strained. Certainly not blues in the moldy fig sense with Kevin Breit leading the Mongrels through their paces, this is a genre bender that just doesn’t know when to quit or where the boundaries are drawn making it a real rouser, even in quit moments. Del Junco proves he makes records because he has to, not because the contract calls for a new one. Killer stuff that keeps the back porch smoking.
Chris Spector - MIDWEST RECORD
Carlos Del Junco originally wanted to record a live “Best of” collection as a follow-up to his recent release, Steady Movin’, but was never completely satisfied with the results. He then decided to do an “almost live” CD recorded in the studio, but played live to capture the energy, intensity, and creativity of his live performances. Mongrel Mash (Big Reed Records), like most other Del Junco recordings, covers a lot of ground, is always interesting and entertaining.
The opener, “The Crazy Bastard,” has an earthy feel behind its somewhat idiosyncratic rhythm. “My Favourite Uncle” combines island beats with the Crescent City and twangy Hawaiian guitar. A hyper reworking of Muddy Waters’ “Got My Mojo Workin’,” here simply titled “Mojo,” is a standout, and finds the band, and Del Junco, firing on all cylinders.
Del Junco also revives three songs from previous albums, the adventurous “Heddon Tadpolly Spook,” a moody recreation of “The Field,” and the Latin rocker, “Mariachi.” The lite-jazzy cover of Herb Alpert’s “Slick” features longtime Del Junco collaborator Kevin Breit on electric sitar. “A Fool’s Alibi” is a cool blues re-write of the T-Bone Walker tune. “Lil’ Laptop” is a 21st Century rewrite of the 50’s rocker, “Rockit 88,” substituting a computer for the hot rod.
The Blues Mongrels are simply superb. Kevin Breit is as virtuosic on stringed instruments as Del Junco, and the incredible rhythm section (Henry Hellig – bass, Jorn Anderson – drums, and Denis Keldie – organ) are truly the secret weapon on the disc. I’ve seen “mad skills” used in several publications to describe Del Junco’s talents on the harmonica, but even that phrase doesn’t do him justice. He’s taking the harmonica to a whole new level that was previously only dreamed of.
There’s never a dull moment on Mongrel Mash. In fact, you will find more to enjoy every time you plug it in.
Graham Clarke - Blues Bytes
Del Junco is a freaking amazing harmonica player, and I don't mean in the sense of the lead singer in the local blues band who blows really loud and bobs his head up and down. Those guys are a dime a dozen in blues, and I'm pretty much sick of them all. Look, let's face it, it's a dull, limited instrument in most people's hands (and mouths). Del Junco is an actual ace who composes intricate parts and solos, and knows several techniques that allow him to play all the notes in whatever key, instead of the few usually available on the tiny instrument. Umm, it's complicated, but he does it, and it works, and not many can. His material is far more instrumental than vocal, and the fact it's always exciting and interesting says it all.
The plans were to make a live album of his energetic stage show, but the technical limitations were bugging him, so instead he took the Mongrels into the studio, and simply played the live show there. But if he hadn't said so in the liner notes, I wouldn't have had a clue, since it's so perfect. That's a tribute to him and the band, all fine players. Now normally, I'd get a little sick of a disc that featured so much solo work, especially on the harp, but that's not the case at all. Plus, of the country's best guitar players is here as well, Kevin Breit, our own Ry Cooder, so there's the excitement of hearing him leap in.
I should state that this isn't wall-to-wall soloing, but rather ensemble playing, with subtleties and clever arrangements. The interplay between del Junco and Breit is lots of fun to single out in your listening, as the two harmonize their parts. There's also a cool mix of song styles, with the usual 12-bar blues nowhere to be found. Err, well, there is one, the classic Got My Mojo Workin', simply called Mojo here, where the group shows you and every blasted blues band in the world how to make it new again. But it's the perky, fun, jazzy Hedden Tadpolly Spook instrumental, with its Merry Melodies harmonica line that goes pretty much the entire song that makes me the happiest, and makes me respect the harmonica again.
Bob Mersereau - top100canadianblog.blogspot.com
That he swallowed a harmonica as a youth, and that it became permanently lodged near his voice box – how else to explain the flair, fluency and devilish command of the diatonic mouth harp from the chrome prince of the instrument, Cuban-Canadian Carlos del Junco? On Steady Movin’ he cavorts with another frontier-evading player, the ever-interested guitarist Kevin Breit. The results are sublime roots ideas. Dull Blade is warped surf music, with never a lacklustre moment. On the solo front, Movin’ Down the River Rhine pays hip tribute in the key of D to Sonny Boy Williamson. There’s a musical narrative at work here, song to song, with the Toronto virtuoso saying a mouthful.
Brad Wheeler - Toronto Globe and Mail
Carlos del Junco is one of the world’s leading harmonica players. Since 1993, he’s been quietly issuing a steady moving stream of fantastically diverse recordings, most recently for Canada’s unconventional blues label, Northern Blues. With Steady Movin’, del Junco has produced his most focussed and ultimately satisfying album yet. The variety of approaches are still there, a grand mash-up of traditional meets contemporary blues, jazz, gospel, folk and ska genres, set to ballads, ’60s gangster flick soundtracks, shuffles, swinging R&B, soul vamps, in band and solo settings, with vocals and without. Del Junco has a lyrical approach to playing harp that utilizes an over-blow technique used by few others with such success. For proof, check his solo rendition of “Amazing Grace,” in which he conjures the sounds of bagpipes on a ten-hole diatonic harmonica. Joining del Junco is regular cohort Kevin Breit on guitar and vocalist John Dickie pays a Canadian tribute to the late Godfather of Soul.
David Barnard for Excliam.ca
One of the most distinctive and adventurous virtuosos on the harmonica, Carlos del Junco has forged a vast array of styles, including blues, jazz, country, rock and gospel, into one seamless whole. His mastery of an incredibly difficult blowing technique has yielded a magnificently expressive tone, and afforded him the capacity of exploring a broad range of ideas. As with his other critically acclaimed releases, the mainly instrumental Steady Movin’ defies categorization, but its eclecticism and diversity set it apart from the pack. Carlos’ muse is in full flight and the ebb-and-flow dynamics are thrilling, making this CD one absorbing listening experience.
Guitar savant extraordinaire Kevin Breit, Norah Jones’ guitarist, is the perfect sideman/collaborator and his presence is crucial to the CD’s overall flow. With their free-wheeling imaginations in flight, both Carlos and Kevin seem like twins sailing on similar musical seas. They sure push those boundaries in ways that will tickle your fancy. “Dull Blade,” composed by Breit, is rather evocative of Blade Runner with its futurist, quirky vibes that swirl about like a neon rainbow. Both gents can swing with ease, as is royally apparent on Tiny Bradshaw’s “Jersey Bounce.”
Carlos provides a deeply moving reading of “The Simple Life,” elegantly capturing the myriad harmonic and melodic riches of this jazz standard. It’s as haunting as anything I’ve heard in years. On “Mashed Potatoes Canada,” the late great James Brown gets feted with guest blues shouter John Dickie and laying down some lowdown and funky vocals. It’s an adaptation of Soul Brother Number One’s “Night Train,” except Canadian cities are called out instead of American ones. Funky and fascinating!
Mention must be made of Carlos’ discipline, breath control, and intense concentration, which allow for an easygoing assimilation of all the inflections, shades, and tones inherent in Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Movin’ Down The River Rhine”. Carlos carries it all off brilliantly (Sonny Boy 2 must be smiling from above). Then there’s “Amazing Grace” and it’s another stunning tour-de-force (certain passages sound exactly like bagpipes). Carlos deconstructs this sacred chestnut in ways that are glorious to behold. Few harmonica players have the chops to even contemplate pulling this one off. He goes solo on “Bailey’s Bounce” (inspired by early blues harmonica great and country music legend Deford Bailey) and it chugs along smartly, just like a freight train in full throttle.
The band members deserve full accolades, and beside Breit, include Marc Rogers (basses), Denis Keldie (keyboards), Matt Brubeck (cello), and Jorn Juul Andersen (drums). There are such plentiful rewarding riches throughout the entirety of Steady Movin that even the most finicky audiophile couldn’t ask fro more. Carlos del Junco’s place alongside such greats as Toots Thiellmans,, Paul Butterfield and Howard Levy is beyond doubt. Steady Movin simply belongs at the very top of your “must-buy” list this year.
Blues fans hold on to your hats! Harp players lock your gear in the closet. This is the caliber of player who plays so well that I have wanted to throw my gear in the river…he is THAT good. He is a technician to be sure, but he plays with such a high level of passion that it is impossible not to be affected. A student of Howard Levy, using a technique known as over blowing, he manages to play nearly every key on any given harmonica…quite a feat, as harps are calibrated to a single key. Many can play in several positions, but few have mastered the technique to the extent of a few masters. The result is a sound that can be anything from straight forward, powerful and "in your face" to almost dreamlike or haunting. This is quite a feat, given the fact that the harmonica was once a simple child's toy. Players throughout the ages have brought this toy to the place where it has been used, not only in Folk, Blues and Americana, but has swept the concert stage, used in Classical composition. Enough babbling for now…Del Junco is a man who has mastered his instrument. Steady Movin' is widely diverse, showcasing a broad spectrum of styles…each played masterfully and extremely passionately. Carlos has studied well the works of past maters, from Deford Bailey and Jazz Gillum to Little Walter, Big Walter, both Sonny Boy Williamsons, Larry Adler, Toots Thielemans and on…culling gems from each, blending it all into a seamless unique style. This recording is highly recommended. If Harmonica is your forte Steady Movin' is one CD you don't want to miss.
Bill Wilson Billtownblues.org
Just as today’s athletes routinely break records set by forbears, musicians these days can play metaphorical rings around those who first crafted the rough ‘n’ tumble music called blues.
Musical perfection, though, doesn’t always translate into musical satisfaction. It’s not about the notes themselves - it’s about how those notes are delivered. Without passion, without a compelling message, it’s all just noodling …
Carlos del Junco is, hands down, one of the world’s best harmonica players. Sticking strictly to diatonic harp, his use of the overblow technique expands the range of what is, by design, a limited instrument. Simply put, there’s very little the man can’t do on the humble harmonica.
Thankfully, del Junco keeps his virtuosity in check on “Steady Movin,” his sophomore outing on the NorthernBlues label. Sure, there are moments here of utterly astonishing technical prowess – witness the solo take on “Amazing Grace,” in which del Junco explores the song’s structure and melody in endlessly inventive ways – but as a whole the disc is a well-paced and thoroughly musical outing.
Opener “Diddle It” sets the pace, a rollicking ride that gives del Junco and friends a chance to toy with convention. From there we’re treated to a dazzling display of musical ideas, from Breit’s “Dull Blade” (sounding exactly like a cheesy 60’s spy-flick-theme should sound) through a tribute to DeFord Bailey, one of the harmonica’s unsung heroes (Bailey was, for many years, the only black performer on The Grand Ol’ Opry). The disc’s title comes from Sonny Boy Williamson’s stream-of-consciousness “Movin’ Down The River Rhine,” a solo excursion that may just reveal the true origins of rap.
The band – returning percussionist Jorn Juul Anderson, new bassist Marc Rogers, with Denis Keldie once again contributing keys - plays like the proverbial well-oiled machine, negotiating tricky changes with intuitive ease. Old friend John Dickie contributes vocals on “Mashed Potatoes Canada,” while del Junco limits himself to singing a pair, which he does quite well. The rest is instrumental, and while there’s not a lot of pure blues content, the obvious and infectious joy of music-making is much in evidence.
One needn’t be a harp-o-holic to appreciate del Junco’s adventurous explorations of the instrument’s capabilities. But if you’re at all interested in how versatile the harmonica can be in the hands of an out-and-out master, “Steady Movin’” is nothing short of revelatory.
Set aside the technical proficiency and the somewhat cerebral nature of few of the compositions here, though, and the result remains an enjoyable romp. And that’s what matters in the end.
John Taylor - Canadianblues.ca
Carlos Del Junco's fourth solo album, Steady Movin', is bringing harmonica back. A heavy statement, but no big feat for the two-time World Harmonica Champ. The Cuban-Canadian blues-man of Toronto showcases his many years of diverse experience (with a background in R&B, swing, and jazz) in his latest effort, covering multiple genres in an 11-track CD. A little much to take in at first, Steady Movin' is a record you'll have to run through a couple of times before the tracks that at first seemed like the theme from an 80s superhero sitcom start to feel fresh and unique, but they'll soon have you casually two-stepping around the room. Del Junco wields his harmonica like a deadly weapon, backed by a tight band and producing a CD that covers two-step rockabilly, traditional blues, and James Brownian funk. Del Junco is one of those artists that parents have loved for years and most of us are just starting to appreciate now. No matter the case, the man gives new meaning to the term "killer harmonica solo."
Margot Bishop - McGill Tribune, Montreal, QC
The eagerly anticipated successor to Blues Mongrel is here and it is worth the wait. It is primarily acoustic and perhaps even more of a demonstration of his prowess on the humble harmonica. The opener, “Diddle It”, seems like a caricature of blues band instrumentals and sounds like it could have been on Blues Mongrel. But Kevin Breit’s “Dull Blade” quickly brings in the new. It sounds like the band overdosed on Duane Eddy records, it’s an exciting, off-the-wall tribute to 60’s pop instrumental hits. The band is much the same this time out with Breit on guitars & banjo, Jorn J??l Anderson back on drums & percussion and Marc Rogers taking over on bass. Denis Keldie is on keyboards. A jazz piece, “Jersey Bounce”, gets a relatively straightforward reading, for this band. Another tribute is next: two bands that share a sound (and a guitarist) get together to honour James Brown. “Mashed Potatoes Canada” features John Dickie from John & The Sisters (Euclid) with the band. Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller) recorded quite a few solo harmonica pieces while in Europe in the early 60’s. Without a band to hem him in with and without the constraints of a 3-minute single, he could extemporize freely. “Movin’ Down The River Rhine” is one of the best of these and supplies the album’s title. It serves much the same purpose for Carlos, there’s just you & him and he doesn’t waste it. “Paradise” is a David Wall song with a lovely melody and the second of Carlos’ few vocals. The stunning solo performance of “Amazing Grace” gets a note: ‘owed to Howard Levy’, his mentor. “The Simple Life” is an evocative Matt Brubeck composition and it begins with Breit and Brubeck on his cello before Carlos and the band join in – a quiet, acoustic masterpiece. DeFord Bailey was an early member of The Grand Ole Opry. He was also African-American, something that was easier to hide on radio, I guess. He was a pioneer of blues and pre-blues harmonica and Carlos’ “Bailey’s Bounce” is a magnificent tribute and performance. “Bye For Now” is one of Kevin’s, a duo acoustic performance. “Doodle It” is again acoustic, with Breit on banjo. As before, there are harp positions and keys listed for every song but never does technical prowess get in the way of enjoyment of the music, this band does far too many live shows for that.
John Valentyn - Toronto Blues Society
The economics of blues and roots music are unfortunate. In a more lucrative field, people all over the world might be able to see the brilliant teaming of Carlos Del Junco's incomparable harmonica and Kevin Breit's inventive stringed instrument prowess, at a local venue, at least once a year. As it stands, if you are lucky enough to live in Canada, you might get to see them play together once every four or five years, at the release party for del Junco's latest recording. The harmonica virtuoso tours regularly, but more lucrative demands on Breit's time, from artists like Cassandra Wilson, Rosanne Cash, Amos Lee, and Norah Jones, must make it hard for him to consider jaunts into the hinterlands at blues wages. Too, del Junco's relative anonymity south of the border means that Americans don't ever get to see him work his mouth harp magic. Fortunately, no matter where you live you can hear the pair any time by just purchasing Steady Movin', and/or the previous records they have recorded: Blues Mongrel and Big Boy.
These records are released under del Junco's name but it is hard to overestimate Breit's contribution. One need only listen to "Diddle It," and "Doodle It" on this CD -- essentially two versions of the same blues, written by del Junco. The former is performed as a boogie with Breit adding horn-like stabs that kick the level of excitement through the roof, all while providing harmonic and melodic responses to del Junco's harmonica. Breit is credited with arranging the latter, and he turns the same theme into a banjo driven jazz tune, reminiscent of Thelonious Monk.
This is not to diminish del Junco's genius. Once again, the harmonica man's performance reveals his usual combination of off-the-hook chops and impeccable taste; a taste that he evidences in areas other than his playing. Though more than a serviceable singer himself, when it comes to wringing the most out of his old school funk tune "Mashed Potatoes Canada," he brings in a ringer -- John Dickie from John and the Sisters -- whose leather lungs are more suited to the James Brown-ian nature of the song.
Carlos del Junco demonstrates constant creativity, whether playing unaccompanied for the Delta-drenched, Sonny Boy Williamson tune "Movin' Down the River Rhine"; in duo with Breit's acoustic slide for the guitarist's, beautiful ballad, "Bye For Now"; delving into Bill Frisell territory for cellist Matt Brubeck's "The Simple Life"; or swinging the jazz shuffle of "Jersey Bounce." If you like your music eclectic and soulful, Steady Movin' will make you very happy. Maybe if we buy enough copies we will finally get to see this dynamic duo live.
Michael Ross - puremusic.com
The harmonica has developed something of a dicey rep. Clueless audience members playing amateur harp along with the band, tired revivals of yet another purist Little Walter imitator, and Blues Traveler-style wanking tend to make us forget that in the proper hands it is an instrument that in one moment can create a highly emotive cry (see: Junior Wells), and in another a breathtaking (no pun intended) saxophone-style solo (see: Toots Thielmans).
Cuban-born, Canadian-bred, harmonica player Carlos del Junco is fully capable of both types of moments. On Blues Mongrel, Little Walter's "Blues With a Feeling" and Sonny Boy Williams' "Nine Below Zero" prove that he is, to coin a cliche, steeped in the tradition. But if that were the sum of his efforts he would be just another in the current long line of purist revivalists whose well-intentioned efforts are contributing to the blues becoming moribund.
Luckily, del Junco has no interest in merely reproducing the sounds of the past, wonderful as they are. On this (as on his previous releases), he and cohort, guitarist Kevin Briet, expand on the jazz and country elements of the blues that are so often overlooked by the curators of the tradition. Like his mentor, Howard Levy of the Flecktones, del Junco is capable of playing chromatically on a standard blues-style harmonica. For the musically unschooled, this means that he can play all the notes on an instrument that was designed to play just some of them. Fortunately for us he uses this facility for good rather than evil, in the form of tastefully melodic solos--like the one on "Let's Mambo," a tune that celebrates the land of his ancestors. He is one of those rare musicians whose ideas are completely unhampered by the limitations of the instrument and, more crucial, whose ideas are unceasingly interesting.
He is joined on a virtually equal footing by Kevin Breit from John And The Sisters, who, after two years of lucrative restraint in Nora Jones' band, is unleashed here. Like his Junco partner (sorry, couldn't resist), Breit's definition of blues expands to include chicken pickin', be-bop, and exuberant humor. His five compositions provide perfect vehicles for guitar and harmonica excursions that range from joyful to heartbreaking, celebrating the full array of what roots music has to offer.
Blues Mongrel pulls off the difficult trick of proving that music can be simultaneously sophisticated and raw, technically adept and highly emotional, serious as a heart attack and as much fun as a circus clown. Thanks to artists like Carlos del Junco and Kevin Breit, the blues will continue to live and breathe for the foreseeable future. •
Michael Ross - http://www.puremusic.com/carlos.html
Harmonica master Carlos del Junco reminds people what they've been missing out˜assuming they're not already familiar with him. Blues Mongrel, his fifth release, transcends categorization and the surprises come fast and furious. Such as a total overhaul of Blues With A Feeling, as Carlos and guitarist Kevin Breit, twist it into a hybrid--half Little Walter-ish desolation and half Son Seals-like angst and fury--all surrounded by an arrangement owing as much to avant-garde Jazz as to Blues. Two imaginations like these ensure that this musical envelope will be pushed.
There‚s a kaleidoscopic of musical ideas and shapes: much like Bela Fleck, Carlos del Junco effortlessly blends numerous genres (Blues, Latin, Bluegrass, Jazz, Bebop, Country, Classical, R&B) into a coherent whole. For instance, a tantalizing version of the Man From Flint theme will get you leaping with joy. No Particular Place is lush, lively, and brimming with humor. Other instrumental treats include Let's Mambo, emblematic of the sensuous Latin rhythms that ripple so effortlessly throughout Blues Mongrel. Every one of these 12 glorious tracks is deserving of lavish praise, but Plain Old (Down Home) Blues blazes a special trail by stretching the Blues to its outer edge. Sonny Boy Williamson's Nine Below Zero is given an absolutely spine-tingling updating by dint of the dazzling virtuosity of Mr. del Junco. An extraordinary talent like Carlos del Junco (or Kevin Breit for that matter) would be a household name in most other countries. Blues Mongrel by Carlos del Junco is a triumph, and it merits my highest recommendation.
Gary Tate www.livinblues.com/cdreviews2005/
Havana-born, Ontario raised del Junco has over the course of his six-CD, 15 year career elevated the status of the humble 10-hole diatonic mouth harp to the equivalent of a Stradivarius violin. Del Junco, a world champion harp player and winner of several national and international awards, has perfected Levy's difficult "overblow" technique, which gives the simple folk instrument full chromatic range and allows the musician to bend notes right out of shape, to find the dissonant tones and textures required in progressive blues and jazz, and to harmonize expressively with infinitely more sophisticated instruments. He's a marvel to listen to, a freak of nature who does to the harp what Bela Fleck does to the banjo, and, assisted by a crack band (including guitarist Kevin Breit, who composed many of the pieces, Denis Keldie on organ, bassist Henry Heillig, drummer Jorn Andersen, and percussionist Arturo Avalos), del Junco achieves an astonishingly complex yet seamless fusion of blues, country, funk, jazz, and swampy roots rock. This one's a classic, a ground breaker of a record that serious harp players will be studying for years to come.
The Toronto Star,
February 10, 2005
By Greg Quill
The first notes of Blues Mongrel jolt you like a cold shower or the sting of a lover’s slap across your face. The explosive ‘Blues With A Feeling’ envelops the listener in intoxicating, foot-stomping glory. By the time the third cut ‘Plain Old (Down Home) Blues’ had finished I knew del Junco’s CD was going to be in my permanent collection. This is real music; it grabs you by the neck and demands that you pay attention.
With a crack team of musicians including guitar wiz Kevin Breit, Blues Mongrel is a revelatory CD. I haven’t been this excited about the blues since Otis Taylor’s White African. Not every song is a winner though; ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ and ‘Run Me Down’ are both pretty ordinary. But the remaining tracks are solid showcases of one of the best blues harmonica musicians in Canada, perhaps even in the world.
Latin percussion, searing blues guitar and transcendent harmonica: Such is Cuban-born del Junco’s interpretation of the blues. And it works, really well.
Hailed as a harmonica master, having won numerous awards for his singular approach to the oft-overlooked instrument, del Junco continues forward on his non-traditional path with his latest release, the aptly titled Blues Mongrel. As mentioned above, he incorporates Latin percussion, jump-blues horns, some blistering guitar riffs and that harmonica into a wide-ranging collection of 12 songs that stretch, bend, and twist, but never break, the listeners perception of what the blues is and can be.
And then there’s that harmonica. Ok, ok, I know I’m bringing it up a lot, but man you should hear it. I’ve always been a harp fan and even have several compilations in my record collection of nothing but harmonica music from overlooked rural innovators. I can listen to someone blowing on a harp for hours on end and I’ve found that few people share my passion.
But now, with del Junco’s release, I’ve found an album that will change their minds. You see, in Blues Mongrel, not only does del Junco expand the blues outside of its normal realms but he creates, in the harmonica, a flexible instrument with the range, emotion, and style of the guitar. With it he travels the globe, sitting at the crossroads in one song, a Cuban Mambo club in another, a Jamaican bar with the next, with a few other unexpected stops along the way, and he never leaves the juke joint while he does it.
In other words, Carlos del Junco’s blues defy physics. Let the purists cry into their whiskey. I’m enjoying this one.
Dave Terpeny, Editor-In-Chief
Georgia Strait , Vancouver
It must be tough being a harmonica virtuoso. Not only would you have to suffer the usual indignities of the musician's life but you'd also have to be serious about an instrument most people think fit only for small children or, worse yet, folksingers. And it would be tougher still to be a blues harmonica virtuoso: Little Walter Jacobs defined the state of the art back in the 1950s, and most players have been catching up ever since.
Carlos del Junco acknowledges that basic fact early on in Blues Mongrel, opening with a gritty version of Little Walter's "Blues With a Feeling", but after that he goes on to inject the form with curative doses of jazz, ska, and Latin music. Better still is that the Toronto-based musician branches out without ever getting so self-consciously clever that he loses sight of the soulful basics. The same could be said of guitarist Kevin Breit, whose snaky, syncopated slide lines are almost as prominent in the mix as the leader's harp; together they've made a modern blues record that's impressively played and authentically heartfelt--a rare feat indeed.
Leave it to Canada’s musically fearless NorthernBlues label to record Carlos del Junco. The blues harp virtuoso with the slightly bent (pun intended) approach to the blues is in good company with his label mates Kevin Breit and Harry Manx. In fact, Breit contributes nasty and twisted, but wholly appropriate, guitar and mandolin throughout. Purists beware: these northern neighbors are not afraid to flip the blues tradition on its ear. For example, you know you are not going to hear the “same old blues” when a drunken, industrial strength distorted boogie guitar opens the CD on Little Walter’s classic “Blues With A Feeling” only to morph into a melting slide solo followed by del Junco’s severely overblown diatonic harp. Which is not to mention the Cuban-born artist’s dead pan, blues vocal mannerisms that are somehow weirdly perfect. Sonny Boy’s “Nine Below Zero” is taken as a solo performance, much like the legendary bluesman’s later recordings, and the tour de force is probably the “straightest” blues on the album with del Junco’s breath intake functioning as a percussive element.
The originals on the dirty dozen tracks push the envelope inside out, too. On “No Particular Place,” a jumpin’, jivin’ wailin’ instrumental, Breit sounds suspiciously like he has heard the Nashville cats as well as a certain late virtuoso from Washington, D.C.. Ditto on “Run Me Down.” “Let’s Mambo,” a nod to del Junco’s motherland, would not sound out of place in Desi Arnaz’ band – well, yeah it would. And then there is the title track: Cab Calloway meets Phillip Marlowe while taking peyote (Note: This site does not endorse the use of illegal drugs).
Dig it: Wildly creative blues guys that do not take themselves too seriously while completely blowing you away with their musicianship. Essential new music.
With the release of Mongrel Blues, Carlos del Junco has again set the high water mark for the blues harp. From the time you first pick up this CD, you realize you are holding a genuine work of art. The cover opens in gate fold fashion to reveal a definition taken from Webster that seems fiiting for the music you will find inside. Inside the cover wolfman-esque images munching hungrily on a Hohner Golden Melody reinforces the notion that what you are about to hear "ain't your daddy's blues harp music." And Carlos delivers. Packed tight in this CD are twelve of the finest examples of why Carlos del Junco has consistently been awarded Canada's highest honor for blues harp. Marrying influences from different genres, even numbers that you think you might recognize, take on other worldly qualities. Brace yourself. Cool, deliberate and calculating, this CD leaves no doubt this animal will prove superior as it comes at you.
Dave King, Cross
Chicago Sun Times
There's a roiling beat through much of harmonica ace Carlos del Junco's sixth album that harkens back to the classic Chicago blues sound -- with strong Latin underpinnings as well. The Cuban-born, Canadian-reared artist also mixes swing, jazz and country influences into his unique concoction.
The diatonic harpist, a practitioner of the "overblow" technique that he learned from his Chicago mentor Howard Levy, isn't afraid to go out on a limb with his playing. Even on standards such as Little Walter's "Blues With a Feeling" and Sonny Boy Williamson's "Nine Below Zero," del Junco will turn the arrangement upside-down. The masterpieces, though, are Noro Morales' "Let's Mambo" as well as the title track, written by del Junco's Canadian guitar mate Kevin Breit.
Friday, February 4, 2005
Last month Canada’s blues community voted in Carlos del Junco Canada’s as best harmonica player at the Maple Blues Awards.
That’s just the latest in a long series of awards for del Junco, whose dazzling virtuosity has placed him squarely at the front of the pack of today’s harmonica players.
There’s a reason he’s spoken of in the same reverential tone as the legendary Toots Thielmans, Chicago harp player Howard Levy and Nashville’s Charlie McCoy.
If you want to know why just listen to Blues Mongrel, del Junco’s first release for the Toronto-based NorthernBlues Music.
This is one wicked set.
Backed by a hot five-piece band whose members include guitarist Kevin Breit, bass player Henry Hellig and percussionist Arturo Avalos, del Junco smokes his way through a 12-song set that mixes traditional blues from old masters like Sonny Boy Williamson with jazz, country and Latin music.
In addition to the Sonny Boy Williamson track, there are classic cuts here from John Henry and Walter Jacobs, plus originals from del Junco and Breit. Breit, in fact, penned one third of the album. He also covers the theme song composer Jerry Goldsmith penned for the action flick Our Man Flint.
The performances that del Junco delivers on tracks like Run Me Down, No Particular Place and Long Highway are nothing short of amazing.
What’s even more amazing is how del Junco produces some of these sounds.
The Cuban-born Canadian is a leading pioneer in the use of the 10-hole diatonic harmonica, having won Hohner’s World Harmonica Competition in Germany. He’s also mastered a technique called overblowing which enables him to play a diatonic harmonica as if it were chromatic. This makes for some real interesting sounds.
Blues Mongrel will most surely land del Junco on the blues honour roll again.
Carlos del Junco's cover shot is an extreme closeup of his mouth, holding a Hohner Golden Melody harmonica. The title is Blues Mongrel and the photo is part of the theme. Inside pictures are collages of a dog-man, and shots of the other musicians baring their fangs. Quite scary! And the music is scary too: raw, overblown harmonica, and that screendoor slamming drumbeat, heavy bass, and Carlos's rich vocals. Kevin Breit, who recently left Norah Jones's band, demonstrates his mastery of the six string throughout the album, and also adds some fine mandolin. Henry Heilig plays bass, Jorn Juul Andersen plays drums and percussion, Denis Keldie adds organ and percussionist Arturo Avalos helps out on a couple of tracks. It's a hot band.
Walter Jacobs' "Blues With a Feeling" starts things off with a Howlin' Wolf feel. Heavy, and I mean HEAVY, distorted guitar sets up the standard 12-bar framework,and Carlos's overblown harp comes in, and you ain't heard heavy yet. Wow! Then Breit's "No Particular Place" is given a reed workout. This tune was a highlight of Breit's duet album with Harry Manx, and it tough to pick which version I like best. It depends which one I'm listening to! Del Junco displays a Jamaican influence on his own "Skatoon." The interplay of this fine group of musicians is inspiring. Even the throwaway riffs are entertaining. "Don't Bring Me Down" starts with slide guitar, adds del Junco's harp, then his vocals, and even a touch of harmony in the chorus. Jerry Goldsmith's theme song from "Our Man Flint" is given a stylish workout. It's blues and then a surprise or two with solid playing throughout and Blues Mongrel will get plenty of play in the car!
Chicago Sun Times
Carlos del Junco - Blues Mongrel (Northern Blues) excellent theater of the mind blues from the harmonica virtuoso and Havana-suave vocalist; winding out a graveyard hunch with a killer backing band - highly recommended!
12 tracks, 57 minutes. Recommended. Webster's definition of 'mongrel' is as follows: "1. any animal or plant resulting from the crossing of different breeds or varieties. 2. any cross between different things, esp. if inharmonious or indiscriminate." With that being said, Mongrel is an apt and highly-fitting title for the new Carlos del Junco disc. With influences and previous work showing heavy touches of jazz, hip-hop, New Orleans funk, Tex-Mex, and bluegrass (del Junco's iceberg is massive), among other styles, his harmonica playing reflects an exciting and highly-modern twist in comparison to what many view the tin-sandwich as. In the hands of del Junco, it's not a small instrument, or a mere toy, instead, it becomes more an extension of soul and voice - and in many ways - it can be considered his voice. Carlos' playing swoops, swells, careens, and flows as often as the tides and it speaks volumes, often in tongues not heard in the blues realm. His covers of Little Walter's Blues With A Feeling and Sonny Boy Williamson's Nine Below Zero are intelligently crafted and heartfelt expressions of his love for blues, as much as Skatoon and No Particular Place show a desire to expand the borders of harp-playing. If you haven't yet had the pleasure of introducing your senses to the talents of Carlos del Junco, Blues Mongrel is packed from beginning to end with creative and stumbling grooves, brilliant harmonica work, and feel as thick as molasses. Spectacular stuff!
UP AND AT 'EM - CBC Radio One
"Up And At 'Em" was featured disc of the week on Bandwidth. ottawa.cbc.ca/bandwidth/discofweek.html and scroll down to click on 2001 Archives and then scroll down till you see Carlos del Junco "Up and At Em" to listen to CD review.
UP AND AT 'EM Big Reed BRRCD-3/Festival
Our wizard of the harmonica's eagerly-anticipated follow-up to Big Boy-some blues and other somewhat related stuff is an impressive one indeed. In Carlos del Junco's hands, the often-thought-of-as-lowly harp continues its trip into the unknown. Most of the songs feature Kevin Breit on his impressive collection of stringed things, Russ Boswell on bass and Jorn Anderson on drums with Dennis Keldie guesting and providing some atmospheric B3. Regular acoustic duo partner Mark Sepic is also on hand for two songs with Henry Heillig on bass and Al Cross on drums. There are three vocals among the eleven songs, with Carlos taking two of them and Jane Siberry doing the multi-tracked vocal on "How High The Moon", which sounds as though it started life as a Larry Adler tribute, but grew. One of Carlos' vocals is his first in Spanish, "Moliendo Cafe" and points to the Latin tinge to the album, as fans of the Sepic/del Junco live shows have come to know. The other vocal is the most overt blues, "The Train Don't Stop Here", and even it's a Los Lobos song (from Kiko). The instrumental quartet of Carlos, Breit, Boswell & Anderson, though, is the heart of the album and it is cutting edge stuff - interactive music of the highest order. I find Kevin's playing is more focussed here than on his own Poverty Playlist albums or on Supergenerous, something I'm sure Carlos had a hand in along with veteran producer Joe Chiccarelli. As before, there is lots of technical information about keys and positions and there's lots more info at www.carlosdeljunco.com. To paraphrase the last album's sub-title, the music here is less related to blues than on that album but if you're interested in harmonica playing and adventure in music, this one's for you.
UP AND AT 'EM CD REVIEW
Continuously, delJunco is moving away from blues in it's strict form. It is amazing to learn how easily he is crossing musical borders. On this one he brings us bluesy, rock, jazz standards, modern jazz and fusion, and anything in between. He's one of the greatest stylists when it comes to innovative harmonica blowing. Harpplayers: listen carefully - this man's got something to say. Perfect recording and high level musicianship throughout. Highly recommended for harp players with open ears.
Detlev Hoegen of Crosscut Records - Germany
AMG REVIEW: Although a studio recording, the songs within this album have an extremely live sound to them, as if each was recorded within one or two takes. Putting his fingers in a few genre pies, the album takes flight with the salsa Latin percussion featured in "11 Songo Blues" before heading back into familiar blues territory on some standards. A surprise guest appearance by Jane Siberry on "How High the Moon" is rather eclectic, starting off slow before a scat-like structure takes control. The playing of del Junco is honed to suit the needs of his supporting cast, often acting as a small but vital ingredient to the music's heart, carrying the title track. The jump in a tune such as "Some Sweet Day" is only eclipsed by the lighter, more melodic notes found in "Donald Michael" and "The Field." And as an added bonus, those wanting to learn the songs can refer to both the harmonica keys and positions noted in the liner notes. An engaging sonic nightcap. AMG rating: ***
Jason MacNeil- All Music Guide
The first time I heard Carlos Del Junco, I was foreman of the jury which voted him World Champion in the Blues competition at the World Harmonica Festival 1993 in Trossingen, Germany. At the time I had no doubt that this Cuban-born Canadian stood head and shoulders above the other students of overblow pioneer Howard Levy. I was fascinated by how he integrated the frequently over-intellectualized overblow approach with the more rootsy feel of Chicago blues and swing, without any stylistic contradictions and with total conviction. His subsequent CD releases bore witness to his continuing hard work and dedication to his music, and underlined his rare ability to combine technically exemplary harp playing with emotional content. My favorite from his first three CDs is the wonderful “Big Road Blues”, an acoustic duo production with talented guitarist and singer Thom Roberts, and a loving tribute to the giants of pre-war delta blues. I next saw Carlos at the 1998 SPAH Convention in Detroit, where his two short appearances clearly demonstrated his growing musical maturity.
Now he’s back with a new release on his own label, Big Reed Records, entitled “Big Boy”. As the subtitle “Some Recycled Blues and Other Somewhat Related Stuff” would suggest, this CD covers a wide stylistic spectrum, ranging from relatively conventional blues to jazz and world beat. Carlos is accompanied on this outing by a top-line band, of whom the excellent Kevin Breit on guitar, dobro, mandolin and mandola is especially worthy of mention. I won’t go into details about the individual titles except to say they are almost without exception highly listenable. The arrangements and the masterly interaction between the band members bear witness to professionals working together on a very high level. What captivated me from beginning to end, however, was Carlos’ unmistakable harmonica playing. Although Howard Levy is clearly still a major influence - see the (to my mind) slightly superfluous Levyish excursion through all 12 keys in the opening track, “Heaven’s Where You’ll Dwell” - Carlos has for the most part now stepped out of Howard’s shadow and speaks with a distinctive voice of his own. The precision and sensitivity with which he lays down his harmonica lines is without precedent in this music. At the same time his playing is both sensual and emotional, groovy and tasteful, with a tone which the majority of harp players would be happy to die for. This CD is a milestone of modern harmonica playing. It sets new standards for all comparable efforts and it sets them damnably high!
My only criticism is that Carlos’ vocals, while undoubtedly good, do not quite measure up to his brilliant harmonica work. As an instrumentalist,Carlos Del Junco is world class. I have no hesitation in saying he is my favorite living harmonica player. Buy this CD!
BIG BOY Blues Review No. 46, April 1999
Oh, terrific - another musical technician. Or is he?
In the blues, lightening - fast, pitch perfect licks can't make up for a lack of basic gut level feeling for the music. Only when these two aspects join do we find the musician who raises his instrumental virtuosity to the next level.
Canadian harpist Carlos del Junco represents the perfect juxtaposition of these two worlds. He's an astounding player who has perfected a type of overblowing technique that gives his playing a jazzy feel. del Junco has fashioned an electric album rooted in the blues, but he's not afraid to merrily traipse into other territory. Don't let his appropriation of a Taj Mahal album title or his offbeat song explanations in his liner notes dissuade you. Though he describes "Heddon Tadpolly Spook" as "a quirky ska hybrid instrumental soundtrack for a Fellini film?", the cut is actually a jazz-blues mix that showcases his amazing blowing style.
More than half the album is instrumental, but when del Junco sings he projects an engaging "speaking" delivery reminiscent of Little Charlie and the Nightcat's Rick Estrin. Whether he's covering Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz" or Ray Charles "Mess Around", this award - winning musician (he was Maple Leaf Blues"Harmonica Player of the Year Award) displays the kind of heartfelt emotional sincerity only the most dedicated bluesmen possess. And though we could probably do without another harmonica train song where the sound of the harp mimics the gradual acceleration of a locomotive, del Junco pulls off this blues cliche with such style, passion and lip-bending intensity that it seems he could have originated the idea.
Not content to mimic the styles of icons such as Little Walter, Paul Butterfield or Toots Thielemans, Carlos del Junco has the chops and imagination to push the boundaries of blues and to take the harmonica to new plateaus. And throughout BIG BOY, he keeps the music's natural heart and soul intact.
BIG BOY Blues Access No.37, Spring 1999
(Catfish pick) Harmonica players will flip over one of the most unique harmonica voices in recent memory, blowing his way through a varied repertoire of blues, and as he puts it, "somewhat related stuff", which includes a ska fling, a Fats Waller tune and some "dawg" music with mandolins.
"One listen to the man who bent his first notes on the harmonica at the age of fourteen and it's obvious he's in a class with such greats as Toots Theilmans, Paul Butterfield, and Howard Levy, who was an original member of Bela Fleck's Flecktones.".... ..."Skate through his recorded output and you'll find that del Junco is one of the most versatile and open-minded harmonica players to ever come down the line."
Peter North The Edmonton Journal
"...so few players, at least on record take advantage of the overblow technique, with the exception of Carlos del Junco...you want to know what I admire is exactly the kind of stuff he is doing. To my mind he has a touch that I could only dream of having, and I think of myself as having a pretty good touch, there is a just a level of control and subtlety that I think is exemplary, I love what he does..."
Adam Gussow of Satan and Adam
BIG BOY RPM Weekly Dec. 7, 1998
The descriptive outline says Blues but the music played by harmonica maestro Carlos del Junco transcends all categorization into sheer artistry. His command of the instrument -- one that's far more difficult than one would believe -- is absolute. Here, he plays an eclectic programme of original and traditional and succeeds in both. His Sister Kate is down and naughty; his playing Waller's Jitterbug Waltz is quite simply a work of art worthy of comparison to Larry Adler. And those are just two out of thirteen excellent tracks. Mostly MAPL and muchly enjoyed, the album deserves much airplay and concomitant front racking. We have spoken.
CUSTOMER REVIEWS on BIG BOY:
Avg. Customer Review: 5 STARS
Carlos Del Junco Rewrites The Book, February 8, 2002
Reviewer: peter krampert (see more about me) from www.eharmonica.net One of the great pleasures of doing research on the harmonica and the players who have made it sound so good is that every so often I get absolutely floored by a player. Someone who reachs so far beyond the textbook way of playing that it makes the entire harmonica community re-think the way it looks at the harmonica. Carlos Del Junco is such a player.
Carlos is the student of harmonica revolutionary Howard Levy, the guru of overblows. Carlos has taken the lessons he learned fro Levy and has incorporated those ideas into the Blues. Blues harmonica has long stagnated into a miasma of how Sonny Boy or Walter would have played. By introducing Overblows and other new ways of thinking into the harmonica, Blues harmonica can now enter the 21st century.
This CD presents an excellent sampling of what Carlos can do. It gives us a few old favorites, a few original compositions and a few major suprises, like when Del Junco plays in all 12 keys on a single harmonica, built to play in only one key. Though I have attended several seminars by Howard Levy and his disciples, my mind still boggles at those who have the ability to think that far outside the box.
For those who want an idea of what potential a simple Blues harmonica has, this is a definite must-have album.
Awesome!, January 19, 2002
Reviewer: An Amazon.com Customer from San Mateo, CA USA Saw this guy at the Harmonica Blowout concert at Yoshi's in Oakland on 1/11/02. I've been playing harp for 3 years - never heard of him. From his name I was expecting a latin or south american influence. NOT! He's a white guy from Toronto! I'm pretty sure he won 1st place in a recent International Harmonica competition in BOTH Blues and Jazz categories.
Del Junco has a rare mix of incredible technical proficiency and musical creativity. He uses a technique called "overblowing" which, in addition to the more well-known "bending", allows virtually all the notes of a chromatic scale to be played on a standard diatonic harmonica. (The other well known artist known for this technique is Howard Levy, whom I am told Del Junco studied under for 3 years.) This is an elusive and difficult technique that most pros avoid. However Del Junco plays them so proficiently that if you weren't trying to follow along with his licks on your own harp, you'd never know - those notes just aren't there!
But the technique is a means to an end, and the end in this case is a set of songs with progressions you've never heard, which sound absolutely terrific. I'm picky - but with this one album (and I have more on the way) this guy has climbed right to the top of my "Harmonica God" list.
He compliments the wonderful licks with a great voice, a good backup band and a nice range of musical styles on a single album. This is a must-buy for any harp fan.
Nearly Peerless, July 23, 2001
Reviewer: Stephen Kampa, Port Orange, FL USA Carlos del Junco is one of the greatest harp (that's slang for "harmonica," for our non-harp-playing friends) players alive and actively playing. del Junco melds the gritty, gutty emotion of blues players to the harmonic prowess and lyrical creativity of jazz players with astonishing results. Give "Jitterbug Waltz" or "Marjorie" a listen for del Junco's sensitivity and restraint in playing, then check out "Mess Around" and "Yul Brynner" for examples of del Junco's ability to rock the house! If you love blues, harmonica, or adventurous music of any type, give "Big Boy" a shot!
Top Rockin' Boogie and Blues, November 17, 2000
Reviewer: Michael Mayer (see more about me) from Annapolis, MD USA Where has Carlos Del Junco been hiding? I can't believe he isn't better known. This album showcases Del Junco's soaring, lyrical blues harmonica and vocal work backed by some of the best sidemen in the business. Two classics, Junco Partner and Mess Around are the best versions of these songs ever recorded. Two others, Heddon Tadpolly Spook and A Funny Thing feature beautiful in sync harp and guitar playing. This is CD is one of the most exciting debuts of a new group since the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Get it and PLAY IT LOUD!
"Blues for the present. Respecting traditions by innovators such as Little Walter and following that example, continuing to push and expand the boundaries of possibility for the blues idiom, harmonicist, vocalist Carlos del Junco and his band establish with Just Your Fool their place in the vanguard of contemporary blues musicians. Check it out."
David Bernard of CKLN - Blue Soul
"Harmonica virtuoso Carlos del Junco takes his instrument to new heights on this set of blues standards and originals." Words and Music Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers Canada (SOCAN) "Whatever the genre in music, if you're the best, let's hear it!. When del Junco puts that harmonica to his mouth, you know there are few harmonica players anywhere past or present that can drag blues around like this gifted young man can."
Eleanor Koldofsky The Listening Post
"It might seem pretty hard to make a harmonica sound sophisticated but del Junco pulls it off...del Junco has mapped out a fine discourse on blues harmonica playing and his handling of the harp leaves one breathless. This isn't some cheapened modern-day blues rip-off, this is the low-down, my-dog-just-died-and-my-house-burned-to-the-ground type of blues that the true Delta masters would smile upon."
Ron Rogers RPM Weekly
HARMONICA HERO CAN'T BE OVERBLOWN
By Brad Wheeler, Globe and Mail Wednesday, November 21, 2001
It may be small and inconspicuous, but in the hands of Carlos del Junco, the harmonica makes it big.
TORONTO -- It's a slow night at Blues on Bellair. The musicians on stage, Raoul and the Big Time, swing with conviction, but their Hollywood jump blues gather little height without a crowd to jump along with them. Sunday evenings hold the come-down hours for the weekend, and the time is not prime for live music.
Things pick up, though, when Carlos del Junco sits in. He's dropped by to play with friend and fellow harmonica player Raoul Bhaneja. The Big Time plays on, dropping the swing for straight-up Chicago blues, but Bhaneja and del Junco are in a world of their own. As they play, they tweak amplifier knobs and effect pedals, switch harps and exchange knowing glances, all in the elusive pursuit of getting the sound in their heads to come out of the shiny, tiny instrument in their hands. For del Junco, it has always been that way."It's an obsession with something so small, and trying to get the sound that you want," del Junco explains.For the 42-year-old virtuoso talent, the obsession stretches back 30 years, when he discovered progressive talents like Paul Butterfield and Lee Oskar, who were pioneers in moving the harp beyond the blues to jazzier effect. Other harpists like Howard Levy and Toots Thielman, melodic players who aren't considered blues guys at all, have also influenced del Junco's jazz-blues hybrid style. Plenty of heroes, then, but it was the instrument itself that held the intrigue."It was the sound that grabbed me, it has a real human voice. It's such an emotional thing, and it always grabs people immediately, especially when it's played well."Ah, there's the rub -- playing it well.The enduring appeal of the humble harmonica stems from its simplicity -- it is one of the few instruments on which one can play a tune after a few days of practice. As well, in an age of bulky electronica, the harp is remarkably and uniquely portable, fitting snugly in a back pocket, to be whipped out at a moment's notice at a campfire, street corner or back porch.
But to play it in an intelligent manner, in a blues mode, the harmonica can be fiendishly difficult to master. The art of bending notes -- lowering pitch by changing the pressure exerted on the instrument's reeds -- comes into play, and it is not an easy thing to do. "A lot of people struggle with it and never really learn to bend a note," according to del Junco. "It's a tricky thing."
Other tricks of the trade include the use of "choked" notes and wah-wah hand effects. In the hands of a capable player, the harmonica can be used to imitate a chugging train or a baby's wail, ranging from eerie howls and harsh yells to sweet sighs and lyrical whispers.
To the untrained ear, harmonica players might seem to be a rather generic lot -- talented, yes, but indistinguishable from one another. One only needs to look at the stable of Toronto honkers to see that it isn't that way at all.
Al Lerman of Fathead also plays the saxophone, which gives him a unique sense of phrasing. Downchild's Donnie Walsh, who learned to play as a truck driver playing in time to windshield wipers, is an energetic and physical player. Michael Pickett can play with the raw intensity of the amplified Chicago style, as well as a sweet, clear country sound. Mark Stafford plays with the big, fat California sound of Rod Piazza, and Paul Reddick doesn't use an amplifier, blowing directly into the sound system in the manner of James Cotton.
What separates del Junco from the rest is the use of a technique known as "overblowing," which allows him to play chromatically, that is to say, in all 12 keys, on a standard-issue harmonica designed to play in just two or three. The technique, not common in the blues idiom, was originated by jazz virtuoso Levy, who in turn taught del Junco.
The overblow, the varied influences, and a Latin background (he was born in Cuba), all find their way into del Junco's recently released Up and At 'Em disc. A musical gumbo of jazz, worldbeat, bluegrass, funk and a hint of blues, the album features del Junco's band and another eclectic virtuoso, guitarist Kevin Breit.
"I should be getting back," del Junco tells me. He's answered all my questions, and he'd love to talk some more, but the band is back on stage and he's itching to join them. The big time, it seems, is calling.