JJ GREY & MOFRO – This River

Album: The River

Artist: JJ Grey & Mofro

Label: Alligator

Release Date: April 16, 2013

JJ Grey

http://www.alligator.com/artists/JJ-Grey-and-Mofro/

 BY TOM SPEED

 Since 2007’s Country Ghetto, JJ Grey’s name has appeared on album covers and concert marquees along with his band’s name, Mofro. Indeed, the constitution of the band has been in flux much of that time with players coming and players going, so it’s only fitting that the Mofro moniker has been assigned to the-band-backing-JJ Grey.

 But this current incarnation— Anthony Cole on drums, Art Edmaiston on saxophone, Anthony Farrell on keyboards, Dennis Marion on trumpet, Todd Smallie on bass and Andrew Trube on guitar— is such a tightly honed outfit that they chose to record much of This River, their 7th studio album and first since 2010’s Georgia Warhorse, live in the studio. Through ten tracks they show why. This band is good at what they do.

 What they do is ply their trade with heaping dollops of Muscle Shoals soul, fiercely funky grooves and southern rock swagger, all doled out in substantial doses on This River, that hang heavy with the humidity of Grey’s Florida homeland.

 The foot-stomping funk of “Florabama” is a house-rockin’ party anthem. The horn section forcefully punctuates the powerhouse “99 Shades of Crazy.” Grey’s harmonica duels with gritty guitar work on “Harp and Drums” while “Your Lady, She’s Shady” is a high-octane boogie. Grey’s emotive, classic soul voice carries the day throughout. And all of these tunes seem eager to be exorcised on stage.

 But Grey also relies on creating vivid characters in his songs. There’s the hothead whose anger management issues land him in the slammer on the swaying soul-blues of “Somebody Else.” An overly controlling fella drives his girl away on the Staxian “Tame A Wild One.”  On “The Ballad of Larry Webb” Grey crafts an earnest biographical tale rich with detail that extols life’s simple pleasures.

 Just as often, the main character is the land itself. Grey’s songs have always exuded this strong sense of place, to the point where the swamps and backcountry cataloged in his songs take on a singular presence and persona. That presence provides the redemption in this collection, with Grey being sanctified in its waters, liberated by its mythological tonic. The healing properties of the waters in the title track bring him from the brink of heartbreak, despair and remorse. Those characters that make crucial mistakes, let situations get the best of them, and harbor regrets for their misdeeds, are eventually redeemed as Grey sings with mournful ache and passion, “only this river, only this river can save me from myself.”

  DOWNLOAD: “99 Shades of Crazy,” “Florabama”

 

 

 

 

1 thought on “JJ GREY & MOFRO – This River

  1. Carl

    Great review. Nice job of giving a feel for how the music sounds for people who may not have heard it. I’m a big fan. Your review would seem to rate higher than 3 stars no?

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