Who needs a bass? Not Ottawa’s MonkeyJunk, who take a somewhat atypical approach to the standard trio format. Substituting baritone guitar for the typical bottom-hugging bass, they deliver blistering boogies and blue-eyed soul on a thoroughly satisfying debut collection.
MonkeyJunk are Tony D on guitars, percussionist Matt Sobb, and Steve Marriner on vocals, harmonica (the instrument on which the then-teenage prodigy first made his mark), keys including Hammond and Wurlitzer, and guitar – acoustic and baritone.
Given he’s up front, much rests on Marriner. His vocals on past outings have been a bit thin, but here he acquits himself admirably, with a gritty, soulful, and thoroughly compelling delivery that’s equally effective on rockers and ballads.
There’s only one cover on To Behold, a nice, bluesy romp through Hank Williams’ “You’re Gonna Change (Or I’m Gonna Leave),” while the band takes collective credit for most of the remaining tracks. Original material ranges from the topical and menacing “Mother’s Crying” that kicks things of, to the surprisingly tender and emotionally honest “Let Her Down,” a subdued minor-key masterpiece. The funky “Right Now” wears out its welcome after a few listens, but most of the tunes hold up well, from the bright and bouncy shuffle of “Running In The Rain” to the moody, made-for-a-rainy-day “While You Are Mine.”
Diteodoro takes sole credit for “All About You,” a tender and touching love song, while Marriner is responsible for the blue-eyed soul of “With These Hands,” both fine compositions indeed. The party comes to a close with “The Marrinator,” an apt title for an instrumental showcase that gives Marriner a chance to stretch out with some hardcore harmonica, both acoustic on the intro and amplified once the band kicks into high gear. He’s an absolute monster on the lickin’ stick, though Diteodoro and Sobb are no slouches, either – there’s not a weak performance to be found here.
They may have started out casually, old friends putting a band together for low-key gigs, but MonkeyJunk’s musical chemistry can’t be denied. They’ve won numerous awards, including a third-place finish in the International Blues Challenge and a 2010 Blues Music Award for best new artist – this despite a combined total of some 60 years of performing experience. This is a band with enormous talent, dazzling versatility, and unlimited potential. Check ‘em out!
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker
Gotta love that name, and though these cats have been around for only three years, they hang together so well and perform so much from the gut that they can’t help but win awards and smoke the competition, acing the Maple Blues Award for best new band only six months after a prehensile inception. Then, at the world famous International Blues Challenge, one of the toughest competitions on the globe, they came in third, standing atop a literal mountain of talent from everyfuckingwhere: NorthAm to Poland to Croatia to Ozzieland and beyond. Not bad for a buncha newbies, hm? Well, when you lay an ear to their hot, sticky, greasy, backwoods folk blues sound—yeah, even when they’re being alley cat slick, as in the funky You’re Gonna Change (Or I’m Gonna Leave)—you’ll understand. Hell, the Stones themselves would bliss out on that cut…circa their Jammin’ With Edward period.
There’s even a great slice of the 70s Motown sound blent with later editions of the favored Chicago mutation (Mother’s Finest comes to mind in sections of Right Now, as well as ZZ Top and John Mayall), the heterogeneous whole refusing to leave the era, sitting fat and happy like a reefer-soaked memory of better times and earthier pleasures. Tony D plays a great soul-rock-psyche axe while Steve Mariner sings the passionate leads (Let Her Down will send chills up your spine), then backs him up on more six-stringed gee-tars before yanking in keyboards while Matt Sobb nails down the rhythm section solo (no bass guitars allowed, y’all, an unusual move) in understated but keenly nuanced skins alert to every shift in emphasis and tone. Ah, but catch that last cut, The Marrinator, where Steve-o opens up on harmonica, and, hoo-eee!, can that muthah play! Starting out athwart Tony’s acoustic soundbox, the song crashes into its full blood bout a third of the way in and just goes to town, booogie-ing’ to beat the sun to the horizon. Thus, is To Behold an auspicious debut? Oh hell yes, Mortimer, and then some! Trust me on dat.
May 30, 2011 – 10:18pm — john kereiff
“To Behold” MonkeyJunk (Stony Plain) *****
The second album from this Ottawa based blues trio proves that these Maple Blues Award winners are more than the hype, they’re the genuine real deal.
I first heard of them a couple of years ago when, as a member of the Board of Directors of The Victoria Blues Society, we booked them for a gig and they tore the place up. Guitars, keys, drums, harp and vocals are their sound, no bass- but they say Hound Dog Taylor didn’t have a bass player, and Little Walter often didn’t use one either. The band name comes from something Son House once said; “I’m talkin’ ‘bout the blues, I ain’t talkin’ about monkey junk” and if it’s good enough for Son, it’s good enough for these guys. They describe their sound as “swamp rhythm & blues, soul boogie and bedroom funk” and after a spin through “To Behold”, I can say they ain’t lyin’. You won’t hear blues any more low down than the Fender Rhodes/ Hammond B-3 powered “Let Her Down”, that song alone reason enough to buy this album. These guys are real road dogs and favorites on the blues festival circuit. If you see that they’re playing anywhere near you this summer, do yourself a favor and go see them. This disc is a serious contender for my blues album of the year- OH yeah.
Sweet Spots: “Let Her Down”, “Mother’s Crying”, “Right Now”
MonkeyJunk: To Behold / 2011, Stony Plain Records
Man, I like this album!
I’ll tell you right off the bat that their own bio describes them as “a generous helping of swamp rhythm and blues, soul boogie and bedroom funk,” and I’d be hard pressed to top that, either for flair or accuracy. What I can add is that every single time I listen to this, I’ve discovered that I best not be sitting down – invariably, I hurt myself trying to dance while in a chair. The opening track, “Mother’s Crying,” is exactly as advertised – the swamp boogie rhythm grabs the listener immediately and refuses to let go, the vocals are somewhere between gruff and soulful, and the harp soloing at the bridge makes this track a near-instant classic. They continue with an excellent treatment of the Hank Williams Sr chestnut, “You’re Gonna Change Or I’m Gonna Leave.” It’s not as angry as some versions I’ve heard, but it borders on a nice, boozy rendition with swagger and regret mixed in equal proportion. The variety (and truth in advertising!) continue with “Right Now,” a heapin’ helpin’ of midtempo steamy funk, all of which accentuate the urgency of the catch line, “If you’re comin’ with me, it’s got to be right now.”
“Let Her Down” is a nice slow blues, and I was happy to hear how well they handle it. As the title suggests, this one is directed to within, the lyrics expressing as much self-disappointment as they do lonely melancholy. “With These Hands” picks it back up nicely; it’s an easygoing midtempo number and the lyrics are nicely written; he’s asking for a lady’s devotion, but more with promises than pleading. I like the occasional female background vocal inserts – they add a nice light soulful touch to the track. “You Don’t Know” and “Running In The Rain” are also midtempo numbers; the latter has a particularly good honest groove to it, again with some subtle but effective background vocals. I could easily hear that track as a strong radio cut. “While You Are Mine” and “All About You” are both nice, slow blues… and as they do throughout, the band handles them with grace and easy, heartfelt emotion. In places, these guys sound so Southern, it’s almost impossible to believe they’re from Ontario, Canada.
The album closes with “The Marrinator,” referring to band member Steve Marriner and the superb harmonica work that bleeds all over this track (MonkeyJunk is rounded out with Tony D. and Matt Sobb). Sure sounds like they had a lot of fun recording this… and I’d be lying if I didn’t mention that I can’t wait to hear this one live someday. And if I haven’t already mentioned it… MAN, I like this album! You can bet that come the end of the year, this will be on my short list of the year’s best releases.