Big Reed Records
10 songs – 45 minutes
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.