Southern swamp funk-blues band JJ Grey & Mofro have a unique sound forged in the backwaters of Florida. Grey, the band’s leader, is well established as a songwriter, and the band’s recordings and live performances are among the most dependably enjoyable in the business.
Grey & Mofro’s reputation grew steadily since the band recorded its first album, Blackwater, in 2001 after trying to secure a contract for a half dozen years. Grey’s music often focuses on environmental issues he cares about in his native Florida, but he also injects a fair amount of humor into his songwriting. His last couple studio albums with Mofro, Georgia Warhorse in 2010 and This River in 2013, have even climbed onto bestseller lists among independent albums. Based on my experience at the Southern Soul Assembly concert in Mobile, Alabama last year, featuring the music of Grey, North Mississippi Allstar Luther Dickinson, Anders Osborne and Marc Broussard, Grey appears to have a huge following among southern millenials. To the audience in Mobile, Grey’s music was the most familiar among his Assembly cohorts, and I could hear the choruses of his songs, such as “Lochloosa” and “Brighter Days,” being sung all around me.
The band’s newest album, Ol’ Glory, has many features of a great Mofro album, including Grey’s characteristic songwriting style that often begins with a simmering prelude before building to a soaring crescendo. If it sometimes seems as though he is using the same songwriting formula over and over again (e.g. “Brighter Days”), this can be excused because it’s a great formula! Grey’s theme on several tracks is once again his native Florida. According to his publicity, Grey spent mornings surfing and afternoons recording Ol’ Glory in Saint Augustine. The album begins with the celebratory “Everything Is a Song,” which is as close to a straight up pop tune as anything Mofro has produced. “The Island” is basically a love song to Grey’s natural surroundings. “Every Minute,” which follows the successful recipe of several of Grey’s most memorable songs, building slowly to that soaring climax. “A Night to Remember” is a playful, funky, steamy jam (but not as steamy as “Slow, Hot and Sweaty” off Georgia Warhorse). Other highlights include “Brave Lil’ Fighter,” “Home in the Sky,” the smokin’ hot title track, and the reflective, acoustic “The Hurricane.”
Along with Mofro’s regular lineup of Anthony Cole on drums, Andrew Trube on guitar, Anthony Farrell on keyboards, Todd Smallie on bass, Dennis Marion on trumpet and Jeff Dazey on sax, the album features guest contributions from Derek Trucks and Dickinson. Ol’ Glory is an excellent album, not as revolutionary as Mofro’s early works like Blackwater and Lochloosa or as perfect as Georgia Warhorse, but it is another solid offering to evidence the outstanding voice of a great songwriter and outstanding band.
About the author: Bill Wilcox is a roots music enthusiast recently relocated from the Washington, DC area to Philadelphia, PA and back again.