As has been said many times, there’s a whole universe of Australian rock and pop bands that have never really made a great impact outside of their home country. Obviously, sites like Bandcamp and streaming services – love ’em or hate ’em – have really helped in getting some of the more underground talents into people’s ears, but all too often, so many Aussie bands have had to rely on a domestic fanbase. As it is with rock, there’s an Australian blues scene that’s barely made a blip on the UK and US record buyers’ radar, with performers like Ray Beadle, The Chris Mawer Band and Kara Grainger helping to fly the flag for the most timeless of genre sounds.
Despite an iffy band name, Adelaide’s Mojo Dingo are another band that fans of solid blues sounds really should check out. Clocking in at just twenty seven minutes – that’s less time than The Allman Brothers Band spent on ‘In Memory of Elizabeth Reed’ some nights back in the 70s – their self titled debut is a little on the lean side, but it’s an exercise in quality over quantity, showcasing several great original cuts alongside a well chosen cover that hammers home the band’s skills and classic influences.
Right from the first few bars of the opening number ‘Mojo Blues’, therte’s a sense that this band’s take on blues comes with more of a retro soulfulness than most. The rhythm guitar work has a clean and almost jazz inflected tone throughout, lending the otherwise very Stevie Ray vibe a little more flair, whilst a shuffling drum part helps the overall arrangement to swing. Frontman Gerard Allman steps up to the mic, and thankfully, his smooth vocals are a perfect fit. So many blues and blues rock acts have a tendency to be spoilt by gravel toned shouters, but Allman possesses something of a soul/blues hybrid, like a white Robert Cray, and when stretching notes there’s a calm and ease in his delivery that seems to take everything in its stride. In terms of song writing, nothing stands out – but that merely means that no howling clichés damage an otherwise great tune – so it’s often down to the musical arrangement to do the heavy lifting, and between William Bourke’s fine lead work and a solid rhythm section, Mojo Dingo create a great first impression.
A similar quality carries through ‘Make Me Feel This Way’, a funky jam that melds a Texan blues influence to the kind of grooves you’d expect from a couple of great Blues Traveler records. If it weren’t clear before, this shows bassist Steve McInerney to be a superb player as he shifts between the funk rock vibes of the verse and into a tougher instrumental section very naturally, occasionally dropping a couple of massive fills along the way. Not to be outdone, drummer Peter Kershaw adopts a tougher stance during the second half of the track, playing a few massive riffs whenever the arrangement allows, whilst Bourke keeps the traditional end up with the kind of six stringed vibrato worthy of an 80s Albert Collins. ‘Looking Back’ (not a cover of the old Johnny ‘Guitar Watson standard, as beloved by so many blues acts) takes a little more of a backseat at first, opening with echoing chords, before a mix of funk and clean rhythms drop into a groove that sounds like Blues Traveler on autopilot. Although it isn’t as interesting as the preceding tracks, fans of a more fluid blues sound should still find plenty to enjoy, especially with a dominant lead guitar adopting a darker tone and a huge sax break wavering on a blues/jazz hybrid harking back to the seventies. In this case, the music is almost everything; Allman puts in a typically natural performance and the “she’s gone, gone” hook is pleasingly simple, but perhaps a little too simple, as chances are you won’t remember much about it when it’s over.
Taking a sidestep into something of an easy listening nature, ‘On My Mind’ presents a slab of soft funk and soul with blues undertones. Allman’s relaxed vocal style and a jazz influenced guitar part certainly sound remeniscent of the great John Mayer, and some fine lead work calls back to a lot of easy blues from the 80s, but the addition of a jazzy sax and some very subtle keyboard work help to make it feel very much a part of the Dingo universe. The track’s heavy reliance on a laid back sound means its impact is subtle, but a few plays ensures this is something of a highlight in terms of both arrangement and performance. Those with keener ears will also spot a cheeky lift from Led Zeppelin’s ‘The Rover’ supplying a musical hook en route…and it’s only fair, since Zep happily pilfered some of their best ideas from far and wide.
A short musical showcase for the whole band, the instrumental ‘Jump Up’ sounds as if it were lifted straight from the BB King catalogue with its busy and groove-led style, again showing some of Bourke’s cleaner tones off nicely, before the SRV Texan shuffles make a timely return for ‘Harder Days’ with Allman and Bourke trading off vocal and guitar riffs. Another impeccably played solo gives everything a lift, but there’s not too much here you won’t have experienced a thousand times if you’re a SRV or Fabulous Thunderbirds fan. Rounding out the album, a take on Albert King’s ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’ melds a brilliant guitar tone with a blues funk groove that suggests someone in the band had spent time listening to Robert Cray during the recording sessions. The extra bit of soul and funk added to the arrangement actually makes the well worn piece sound remarkably fresh, particularly during a fine instrumental jam underscored with chopping rhythms and rattling drums, which leads into an even funkier section where McInerney indulges in a world of slap bass. If you need an easy entry point into the world of Mojo Dingo with something very familiar, this not only provides a great first impression, it also tells you everything you need to know about the collected musicians’ talents.
It’s fair to say that Mojo Dingo aren’t out to reinvent the blues as we know it – and with so much scope within a classic genre already, why would they try? – but there’s a real heart to this album that ensures the material never sounds stale. Its seven songs show off some great musicians throughout and even at times when the song writing doesn’t really stand out, you’re never far from a cracking guitar solo, a superb bass fill or an all round great groove to make everything really flow. This definitely an album you can add to your already massive pile of blues CDs with confidence and in terms of debut recordings, this is a fine start indeed.