Gumbo: a spicy Creole stew containing shellfish or meat, popular in New Orleans. Mumbo jumbo: meaningless nonsense, in contemporary idiomatic English. Both expressions – like the Blues itself – are of African origin and first crossed the Atlantic with the slave ships: “ki ngombo” for the vegetable okra (“gumbo” by way of Louisiana French); mumbo jumbo from the Mandrinka word “Maamajomboo”, a masked male dancer who took part in magic and rituals. Probably nonsense to the average English slave trader, but for locals the mumbo jumbo man had supernatural powers.
A few years ago, Band of Heysek made their own epic journey across the Atlantic. They travelled from Brno to north Mississippi and recorded a couple of albums with Hill Country Blues legends R.L. Boyce and Kenny Brown. But for Mumbo Jumbo Gumbo, they stayed closer to home and recorded in Moravia with another Blues aficionado – Prague-based Englishman Phil Shoenfelt.
The collaboration began in the summer of 2020, when Phil was invited to play a gig in Brno with the Heyseks as his backing band. More gigs followed and the synergy was so special that the idea was put forward to write some songs together. Via email and Google, Phil and Jan Švihálek collaborated on a set of surreal lyrics. By January 2023, they had enough material to start jamming with drummer Lukáš Kytnar and bassist Moimir “Bob” Sabolovič. Over the course of a single weekend, holed up in Honza’s cottage, they came up with a dozen or so numbers. Most of them were based on music that Phil and Honza had worked on independently. Others were spontaneously improvised, conjured out of the Moravian air as if by magic.
By the time they met in August to record at David Kohler’s studio in Mikulov, the songs had taken shape but were by no means finished. What happened during the following three days was something like a miracle. These proto-songs suddenly blossomed into a wide-spectrum sound that takes its influences not only from the Blues, but from Country, Rockabilly, Punk, Post-Punk, Pop, Progressive, Psychedelic and Folk Rock. The punk approach and Blues feeling of the Heysek guys welded with Shoenfelt’s past in Anglo-American post-punk, Psychedelia, Folk and Gothic Blues. It’s an ambitious collection of songs – as if seventy years of a particular strand of popular music had been distilled into one integrated whole.
Following the Heysek method, the album was recorded live in the studio with no overdubs and no corrections. There is a “looseness” in the playing – looseness, not sloppiness – that recalls not only the Blues, but American rock from The Band and Neil Young to Wilco and Drive-By Truckers. Not many European bands can catch this American quality, which has antecedents in Gospel, Funk and Swing. Studio maestro Jirka Topol was an integral part of the process, especially at the post-production stage. Keyboard virtuoso Omer Blentić spanned the range from Jerry Lee Lewis to Matthew Fisher, while the incredible backing vocals of Kristi Lescinski gave an authentic American edge to swamp rock numbers like “Monkey Brain” and “Alligator Shoes”.
Mumbo Jumbo Gumbo: a spicy stew of magic, music and divine poetic nonsense.
|01 Monkey Brain
|02 One Way Street
|03 Mystery Shoes
|04 Let It Burn
|05 Childhood Dreams
|06 Alligator Shoes
|07 Tiny Coffee Shop
|08 Rainy Day Window
|09 How Do You Sleep At Night