CD Review: JJ Grey and Mofro
**** out of *****
There are few albums these days that just make me want to listen to it over and over again. The fifth release from JJ Grey and Mofro, Georgia Warhorse, does exactly that and more.
In addition to the quality of guests Toots Hibbert and Derek Trucks, the music and narrative lyrics have an incredibly powerful presence. The group's previous releases, which include Orange Blossoms, Country Ghetto, Loochloosa, and Blackwater, all had this same Southern-blues feel but not to this degree.
Some of the sound comes from where the album was recorded.
That place is Retrophonics Studio in St. Augustine, Fla. The equipment used is described as vintage, which fits the style of the music and of Grey himself. The studio is owned by Jim DeVito, a large man whose MySpace profile picture looks like that of a biker-gang lord.
The album, released on Chicago blues label Alligator Records, starts out with a funky tune called "Diyo Dayo." With a wailing harmonica and backup vocals, it gets the head bobbing and feet tapping.
Listeners get a sense of being in a smoky Florida bar with the music pumping loudly, drinks pouring, and gators outside trashing around in the water with prey in their mouths.
It moves on to a slower seven-minute long ballad called "King Hummingbird" that makes you want to grab your girl and slow dance. Its acoustic guitar displays real soul mirrored not only in the lyrics but also in Grey's singing.
The song "The Sweetest Thing" features the soulful voice of Hibbert, who was also on local reggae group Public Property's latest album, Work to Do. Hibbert is one of Grey's biggest heroes and influences.
As the album progresses, more of JJ Grey & Mofro's talent comes out. The lyrics themselves are written like narratives that display Grey's ability as a storyteller. The music flows in and out of upbeat and slower tunes that are fit for a swamp king. Guitarist Trucks helps close it with the song "Lullaby," a slow psychedelic-blues song that builds up and up until it comes to a slow and steady stop. Truck's signature slide guitar is so apparent that it creates an epic ending to a great album.
Iowa's jazz station, 88.3 FM KCCK, recently had the album as its Saturday night "Midnight CD," a program that showcases a new album in its entirety. The program aired directly after "Da-Blues with Bob DeForest," an Iowa Blues Hall of Famer.
JJ Grey & Mofro's great cult status is now in danger after the release of the group's latest album. Georgia Warhorse raises the bar so high, the rest of the world may just start to notice this slowly rising star. Over the past decade, the group has been increasing its fan base show by show.
Some locals may remember when the group played in Iowa City at the Yacht Club in July 2008. Owner Scott Kading does, and he has told The Daily Iowan the group is his favorite band. He discovered JJ Grey & Mofro while on the Internet and stayed online for hours listening to its music. Kading loved it so much he wanted the group the play at his club.
"It took over five years to book one of the coolest shows ever," he said. "Love the swamp funk."
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