Talkin' about MonkeyJunk: Canadian roots-rock trio impresses on All Frequencies

We weren't able to make it to last month's Heritage Music Blues Fest in Wheeling, so we missed out on a good opportunity to see a number of acts we've been looking forward to catching (or catching again), from recent International Blues Challenge winners Little G Weevil and the Selwyn Birchwood Band to the likes of Dr. John, JJ Grey & Mofro, and Joe Louis Walker. But perhaps the act we most regret having to miss was that of an all-too-rare northeastern U.S. appearance by Canadian blues-rockers MonkeyJunk, a band whose sound is every bit as intriguing as its name, which derived from a statement once made by legendary bluesman Son House: "I'm talkin' 'bout the blues. I ain't talkin' about monkey junk."

Whatever you might choose to call it, we've been enjoying MonkeyJunk's music and style ever since 2009's Tiger in Your Tank, the recipient of the 2010 Blues Music Award for "Best New Artist Debut". That was followed by 2012 Juno Award (Canada's version of the Grammy Awards) Blues Album of the Year winner To Behold (read our review of it here). And now comes the band again with its latest - their sophomore effort on the Stony Plain Records label - in All Frequencies, out this week.

Once again, the trio manages to impress, with a diverse set of roots-based sounds that grows on you more and more with each subsequent listen. Sort of like a mixtape of your favorite artists, the album blends the coolness of Gary Clark Jr. (such as, for example, on the driving opener "You Make a Mess" and the breezy "What I Got to Give"), the smoothness of Joe Bonamassa ("Right from Wrong"), and the grittiness of Moreland & Arbuckle ("Sirens in the Night" and "Yearnin' for Yesterday") or Johnny Sansone (a splendid cover of the Bobby Charles classic "Why are People Like That?," the edgy vocals and harp of which nicely match the song's rather pointed lyrics), with a dash of Prince (the catchy R&B sounds of "Je Nah Say Kwah"), JJ Grey & Mofro (the slow but powerful ballad "Once Had Wings"), and Booker T & the MGs (the funky, closing instrumental "Swank") also stirred in.

Steve Marriner's vocals employ just the right balance of coarse and smooth, sometimes even in the same song, with Marriner also contributing musically on both harmonica and keyboards as well as with a custom baritone guitar that helps the band to better achieve the lower frequencies (hence the album's title). Lead guitarist Tony D punches up the effects on this one, incorporating plenty of wah-wah pedal and slide, while Matt Sobb helps to move things along with drums and percussion, with such songs as "Right From Wrong" - with its greasy harmonica and scorching guitar - and the shuffling grooves of "Say What?" serving as particularly good examples of how well this band clicks.

Together, these ten solid songs make up what is bound to be another award-winning album for the band - perhaps their biggest yet. It may not be exactly what Son House would call the blues, but you can bet a whole lot of folks are going to be talkin' about this MonkeyJunk.

Here's the band from the Heritage Music Blues Fest, with "Why Are People Like That?" (music starts about 0:35 in):


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