Wednesday, April 17, 2024

JJ Grey & Mofro – This River

JJ Grey & Mofro from Jacksonville, Florida (formerly billed just as ‘Mofro’) can trace their history back to the late 1990’s – trying to grab themselves a recording contract in London, UK. In 2001 the band released their first studio album ‘Blackwater’ on Fog City Records – and the album was called “One Of The Best Of The Decade In Music” by amazon.com.

The soul/funk/R&B/blues/Southern rock band, comprise of JJ Grey (vocals, electric piano, acoustic guitar and electric guitar, harmonica) with Andrew Trube (electric guitar and slide guitar), Anthony Farrell (Hammond organ), Anthony Cole (drums) and the “Hercules Horns” Dennis Marion (trumpet), Art Edmaiston (tenor saxophone) and Todd Smallie (bass guitar).

June 2013 brings the release of their sixth album ‘This River’ on Alligator Records. The disc takes its name from St. John’s River – the longest river in Florida – which was the heart of childhood memories for JJ Grey. The album was produced by San Francisco-based Dan Prothero at Jim Devito’s Retrophonics Studio in St. Augustine, Florida, with some additional work completed at Grey’s own ‘The Egg Room’ studio.

First track ‘Your Lady, She’s Shady’ has an alligator-skin of cracked guitar and joyfully ruminating bass. The voice is percussively rhythmic, and chatters along to the melody, and then blooms out in the full chorus. A surprisingly rude horn adds fruity layers – and the harp adds a touch of ripe contusion to all those sharp sounds.

‘Somebody Else’ has shovelfuls of off-kilter – yet rampant – bighearted horn. With the shimmering guitar, coiling organ and emotionally gritty voice, this is a fevered rattlesnake of a song. It is skin-tight, slippery and as poisonous as hell. A deliciously wicked treat.

jj grey

‘99 Shades Of Crazy’ is a tub thumping, groovy, head-trembler of a number. It’s a travelling tale, on the sharing of times and places with those undesirables – that you often seem to find yourself with – when you’re travelling on the road … on the back of a “turnip truck” on way to one of those seedy joints or wayward dives. You must be 99 shades of crazy to follow this life … but it’s worth it.

Many of the songs on this album are about “normal folks” who push themselves to the extreme. The soaring 12-string ‘Ballad Of Larry Webb’ is the best of these. The pathos will sink deep into your veins. Poor old Larry is the holy veteran of a tortured, hard-working life. With his threadbare, worn-out shirt that was “always neatly cleaned and pressed…” he has “never missed a day of work…” Larry is a picture of natural justice and the vision of love. Enthroned on the frontage of his dilapidated house, he would still greet each day “with open arms…” It’s a lesson on how we all should live.

Tenderly plucked ‘Write A Letter’ is a bourbon-soaked blues number. The substantial chorus is decorated with drunken bar-room piano and some illicitly squeezed horns. But it is that bitter bodied, highly strained voice of JJ Grey – in the final chorus – that will make your head spin and your muscles slacken. Those final strands of moon shining sounds are as sweet as sugar maple burning on the evening breeze.

There is rock, blues and soul in abundance on this album. But the sound that predominates through-and-through is swamp funk. No track is more “funkalicious” than ‘Harp And Drums’. The rhythms will infect the bones and vibrate your spine. The harmonica sighs, screams and purrs. The electric guitar is acidic and sharp, and the vocals are as scatty as they are guttural. It’s a mosquito-bitten braided bayou of sounds and textures.

Title track ‘This River’ reveals lyrics about trying to find a purpose in life … perhaps even seeking rescue. Redemption is found through the mighty river that flows on by. This is a slow country song. It carefully meanders, the arcs of sound fanning out gracefully. It is a dark and mysterious hymn about seeking salvation. With a fascinating golden quality to it. It’s full of tender-hearted emotion.

If you like your blue-eyed soul to be stuffed with authentic blues, completed with a gritty voice, and piled high with sour-mash accompaniment, then this album will shake your cocktail – and could even make your moustache flicker. It is an album that has been built with sincerity and love. And with true devotion to authentic sounds and quality musicianship.

7/10

Neil Mach
Neil Mach
RAMzine Senior Writer - With a career spanning 30 years author / journalist Neil Mach is an expert on the music business and is a reliable guide. He especially loves heavy metal, prog & blues.

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