Monday, September 15, 2008

Orange Blossoms reviewed by Mark Thompson

Orange Blossoms
JJ Grey & Mofro
Alligator Records
12 tracks/53:53

Their second Alligator release finds Grey and Mofro continuing to explore their potent mix of funky swamp rock & soul music that stems from Grey's formulative years in his home state of Florida. Grey has one of those expressive voice that is thick with a soulful feel. He could sing the pages of a phone book and still command your attention !!
Listen to the title track at the open of the disc - Grey's vocal oozes a southern feel over a ringing guitar riff and a driving horn section. The arrangement slowly builds in strength and Grey steadily builds the emotional intensity of his performance, his voice displaying a harder edge to match the music swelling around him.
"The Devil You Know" is a funky workout with a female backing chorus that serves as a fine contrast to another strong Grey vocal. One highlight of the disc is the somber "She Don't Know", a Grey original that features a string section and a more restrained, but none-the-less passionate, vocal from the leader.

Grey is indeed the main man on this project. Besides writing all but one song and handling the lead vocals, he plays a variety of instruments including guitar, sitar, piano, clavinet, harmonica and percussion. His compositions continue to prove his skill as a musical arranger. This batch of tunes is not as strong lyrically as previous efforts but Grey makes up for any shortcomings with the sincerity of his performance. Band members Adam Scone (bass & organ) and Anthony Cole (drums) make key contributions by establishing a strong rhythmic foundation throughout the disc.

"WYLF (What Your Looking For)" comes across like a long-lost medium tempo funk workout from Sly Stone. The longest track, "Move It On", is another slow burner with a spooky arrangement that creates a sense of forbidding and doom. Grey reveals his gospel roots on the closing track "I Believe (In Everything)", his voice soaring over a spare accompaniment before the vocal chorus and horn section join in, pushing Grey's voice to even greater heights.

If you have resisted the urge to check-out prior releases from JJ & Mofro, this new release gives you the opportunity to correct your error of omission. Grey delivers another outstanding set in his unique style that aims for your soul and rarely misses the mark.

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