Blues Mongrel - Carlos del Junco - Reviews


Blues Mongrel


"Somehow, perhaps due to touring and making his home in The Great White North, Carlos del Junco escaped this writers' detection until this exceptional recording, Blues Mongrel. Very impressive indeed; you'll be blown away by his scary technique, imaginative songwriting, and inventive arranging. Let's immediately recognize the involvement with the master of all guitar genres Kevin Breit (Norah Jones Band, among many others) figures heavily into the overall sound and the songwriting.

"... Blues Mongrel, is in reality pure pedigreed Blues, Jazz, and a little Country. Being voted Maple Awards Best Harmonica Player 2004 and getting gold medals at the Hohner World Harmonica Championship in both the diatonic Blues and Jazz category is far from being a mere mongrel. BluesWax Rating: 10"

March 23,2005 


"Harp player extraordinaire Del Junco is another Cuban taken under the wing of NorthernBlues. This is his sixth album but the first for the excellent Canadian label. He opens with Little Walter's Blues With A Feeling which has a fractured heavy blues start and has a contemporary feel as well as paying historical dues. Right from the beginning his harmonica playing is top class and it's not hard to see why he has won awards for his playing all over the globe. He has a novel way of playing - he plays chromatically by using an 'overblow' technique on a ten hole diatonic harmonica. He has a good voice too!

No Particular Place shows he has lungs of steel. Great interplay between the harp and Kevin Breit's guitar on this blues/jazz instrumental. Plain Old (Down Home) Blues has a little Tex-Mex influence and although his vocal is a little too pronounced there's no disputing his harp playing. Skatoon is a dual-layered instrumental with ska overtones and Don't Bring Me Down has Breit on slide guitar. This tends towards traditional country but just slightly on the alt. side. This is a favourite of mine.

"The Jerry Goldsmith song
Our Man Flint may seem like a strange choice but Carlos's ethereal beginning opens out into a swing beat and his harmonica breezes through the melody. The old favourite Run Me Down is jazzier than the The Notting Hillbillies version and the rockabilly guitar solo is excellent. Add to that another lung bursting harmonica solo and there you have it. Let's Mambo gives it all away in the title and there's a militaristic beginning to Long Highway. Carlos's laconic vocal adds to a mixture of styles.

"The title track is another fractured blues but the now commonplace interplay between guitar and harp is still strong. This instrumental probably has the best harmonica playing on the album. Sonny Boy Williamson's
Nine Below Zero is treated well as Carlos snorts his way through the track. He turns acoustic for the first time on the closing track Don't Worry Your Pretty Little Head. This has a cowboy feeling and is just another facet to Carlos Del Junco. Don't believe what it says on the cover, this boy is pedigree."

-David Blue
NetRhythms, U.K.
March, 2005 


"Serial (surreal?) harpist Del Junco collabs with guitarist Kevin Breit - also Henry Heiling on basses and Jorn Juul Andersen on drums - with additional help from organist Denis Keldie and percussionist Arturo Avalos. The material is a balance of five Breit titles and covers like Little Walter's "Blues with a Feeling" and John Wiley Henry's "Plain Old (Down Home) Blues" along with "Let's Mambo" -- all apples from a different orchard. They go for a fairly greasy room mix - sounds like you wanna wash your hands when you leave - with a lot of adventurous chemistry. Del Junco aims to rise to the challenge and take the idiom to an art blues level. Quite a trip."

-Dean Cottrill
The Hour, Montreal
March 2, 2005 


"A fun blues 'n' boogie set by one of the world's greatest harmonica players. For those who can't get enough harmonica, this is great news. For the rest of us, fret not. Although del Junco is obviously a virtuoso, he doesn't repeatedly remind his listener that he is. There are no self-indulgent, pointless, tech-heavy solos here. Everything fits into the good-time groove. As does the rest of the band, including guitarist Kevin Breit, who works with jazz/pop stylist Norah Jones. As a vocalist, del Junco sticks to his range and doesn't try to overextend himself. Another good thing. Enjoyable all the way through, Blues Mongrel is a keeper."

-Jim Reyno
The Daily News - Halifax, NS
January 27, 2005 


"There is one thing you should know about Carlos del Junco - the man can play the harp. This is the first time I've ever heard his stuff, and I was blown away by both his musicianship and a blend of styles that at times creates new forms of music.

"It starts in blues, but strays into bluegrass, samba, rock and, I suspect, just about anything he wants to play. It reminds me of Ry Cooder at times.

"Del Junco was born in Cuba, but moved to Canada with his family at the age of one. He first picked up a harmonica at age 14, and from the evidence of this CD, hasn't put it down since.

"He's well-known in Toronto blues circles and has been putting out CDs since 1993. This one benefits from guitar whiz Kevin Breit, who wrote several of the tunes and contributes much of the raucous atmosphere.

"My two favorite tracks are both twists on instrumental covers.
Our Man Flint, the theme from the 1966 Bond spoof starring James Coburn, starts out as a mournful dirge. Just as you're ready to hit the button to skip the track, it picks up a swing and becomes a Latin-influenced jazz tune counterbalanced by a honking, twisting harp lead that will leave you gasping.

Let's Mambo is another instrumental that lets del Junco show off. In his hands, the harmonica becomes a new instrument, displaying all the expressivity and subtle nuances demanded by the old Latin standard. When he plays it, a harp sounds like a perfectly natural Latin instrument.

"I like music that straddles genres, so that's what caught my ear, but there's plenty of pure blues romps. About half the CD is instrumental, but that's fine because you're not going to buy it to hear del Junco sing."

-Paul O'Connell
The Chronicle Herald (Halifax)
February 19, 2005 


"No dog this one. Del Junco is a harp maestro, chewing and spitting out most tasty licks. He never over-blows like, say, John Popper. With the tremendous guitarist Kevin Breit (Norah Jones) leading a group of likewise talented Canucks, Del Junco and band roar through originals and a few fine covers. They always come up with a new trick or turn something that livens up a genre too often mired in formual. Del Junco stands apart, that endangered species, the inventive harmonica player."

-Bob Mersereau
New Brunswick Reader
February, 26, 2005 


"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
March, 2005 


"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
February, 2005 


"Hybrid things come from Carlos del Junco, an interested Toronto jaw-harpist who plays anything but plainly and old - even on Plain Old (Down Home) Blues, a swarthy swing number. On a curious album, del Junco shares liberally with guitarist Kevin Breit, whose warped stances invite playful harmonica retorts. (With Breit's circular surf and chicken-strut and del Junco's replies, the instrumental No Particular Place is a chase, as much as a dance.) Mongrels maybe, but the results here are much better than mixed."

-Brad Wheeler
Globe and Mail
February 25, 2005 


"Canadian blues harmonica player Carlos Del Junco offers an enjoyably varied set on the aptly titled Blues Mongrel, featuring as does the blues mingled with some other styles. A better instrumentalist than a vocalist (though he's an okay singer), Del Junco is a skilled practitioner of playing chromatically with a ten-hole harmonica. That sometimes leads to a feel not unlike Little Walter, whose "Blues with a Feeling" is covered for the opening track. While he interprets another Chess blues great with Sonny Boy Williamson's "Nine Below Zero," not all the songs are as much in the classic straight electric blues mold. He quotes from James Bond soundtracks, covers "Our Man Flint," and offers a Latin-tinged blues in the manner of Peter Green with early Fleetwood Mac on "Plain Old (About Home) Blues." Elsewhere there are nods to ska, country, and mambo, making for a refreshing willingness to go beyond the usual blues strictures without subverting the music's time-honored strengths. The quizzical little upturns on the otherwise fairly standard instrumental blues "No Particular Place," where Del Junco inserts phrases owing little to the usual blues progressions, are a good illustration of the material's adventurousness."

-Richie Unterberger
All Music
February, 2005 


"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."

-Alexander Varty
Georgia Straight, Vancouver
February 17, 2005 


"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.****"

-Jeff Johnson
Chicago Sun Times
Sunday, February 6, 2005 


"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 clissonant 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 Heiig, 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. De Junco launches the album at Hugh's Room on Feb. 19."

-Greg Quill
The Toronto Star
February 10, 2005 


"... 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."

-David Kidney
Green Man Review
February, 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."

-Doug Gallant
Charlottetown Guardian
February 4, 2005