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!