Episode 191: Mojo Monkeys
Air date: 9.20.2017
David Raven, Billy Watts and Taras Prodaniuk make their living making other people sound good. Their collective credits include albums and tours with Bruce Springsteen, Norah Jones, Dwight Yoakam, Bonnie Raitt, Keith Richards, June Carter Cash, Lucinda Williams, Mike Ness, Dixie Chicks, Richard Thompson, Jim Lauderdale, Peter Himmelman, Buck Owens, T-Bone Burnett and countless others. They’re journeymen in top form, they’re still on the journey, and they’ve been friends for decades. After spending so much time backing up other artists, they long ago decided to start their own trio, Mojo Monkeys, as a place to get their collective musical rocks off. The years of hard work shows in Mojo Monkeys. Unconstricted by a big name on a marquee, these guys can follow their own muse. There are funky grooves, and expert lines that duck in and out of a greasy and spicy New Orleans-influenced musical stew. For all their chops, the band never veers into ponderous wanking territory. Put another way, Mojo Monkeys isn’t a side project that provides a bleeder valve for gratuitous sideman musical eccentricities, it’s a place where three friends who happen to be expert musicians can share their common love for making music. Their mutual affection shines through, as does the reverence for the material they create together. Raven takes the lion’s share of the lead vocals, standing at a hybrid upright drum set that allows him to better engage the audience by not being confined to a drum riser back between the amps. Watts’ harmonic motion on his pale green Gretsch finds him delivering the perfect licks in all the right places, and Prodaniuk’s snaky bass lines provide counterpoint as well as doing an exemplary job doing what the most astute bassists do best - which is making sure that the whole thing hangs together. Their new record, Swerve On, continues the groovy, danceable tack that Mojo Monkeys have defined for themselves over the course of their several records, and throws in a bit of The Band’s eclectic sensibilities for good measure. It’s hard not to smile when they do what they do, because Mojo Monkeys’ music is fun, plain and simple.