JJ Grey & Mofro
John “JJ” Grey and his band Mofro hail from the swampy outskirts of Jacksonville, Florida. Their music is a fusion of blues, pop, rock, soul, and funk. They have no bass player but use horns and keyboards to infuse a sound unique to them. They are not flashy or urbane. They are pure, unadulterated swamp.
Grey is a great songwriter and the band is tight. The lyrics and music are both top notch. The 12 songs pack a punch that makes the listener sit up an pay attention.
Alligator has done well of late with their CDs from artists on the fringes of the traditional blues. Last years’ Eric Lindell CD and this one show us where the blues can go, having evolved, absorbed and reinvented into a plethora of great sounds.
The title song describes the proud, poor life in the South with lyrics like, “Starve to death before you live by a government handout ⁄ They call us poverty ⁄ ⁄ Life in a country ghetto.” The opening song “War” also has hard hitting lyrics with a driving 60’s-esque beat, which hearkens back to anti-war songs from the Vietnam Era.
The tune “Mississippi” is a funky, swampy sort of adaptation of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” It is a cool little piece and is one of the better cuts on the album.
"Making our latest album was a whole different thing. I finally got the opportunity to get my family's gospel group singing on a track ("The Sun Is Shining Down"). That, along with horns, strings, and some hot female background singers made for some really special moments." JJ made these comments in reference to a tune he crafted. Using the line of lyrics from the chorus of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” “Glory, glory, halleluiah,” he opens the chorus of this song; yet it is not purely Gospel nor purely blues. It is Mofro.
Speaking of Mofro, those of you concerned about not being familiar with this word shouldn’t be concerned. It’s really not a word. When asked by Tim Parsons of the Tahoe Daily Tribune how he came up with the name MOFRO, JJ answered, “Just working at the lumber yard. I worked there nearly 10 years and they're all good friends of mine. We would just be like 'What's up MOFRO?,' 'Hey MOFRO,' and all that. I was like, that's a good enough name to call something. It sounded Southern but didn't mean any particular one thing. It could mean a lot of things to anybody. So I said 'OK, I'll just call it MOFRO.'“If I had to find one flaw with the CD, it would be the song sequencing for the last 4 cuts. Grey presents us with a a ballady blues number, the slowed down swamp-a-funk “Mississippi,” the rather slow Gospel/blues song and then concludes with “Goodbye.” “Goodbye” is a great little song and the title and lyrics make it a great way to close the album, but Grey just slows and slow and slows and slows in these four songs and the album just grinds to a halt. That’s not bad, but I might have sequenced a faster tune in between there somewhere. Not a huge flaw from an album that I liked so well I went out and bought a copy for myself before I even wrote the review. It’s a little of the Allmans mixed with Skynyrd and Motown with a little country and Cajun thrown in for good measure. Not a bad recipe for success.