Today on Blogcritics
Home » Music » Reviews music » Music Review: JJ Grey and Mofro – Country Ghetto

Music Review: JJ Grey and Mofro – Country Ghetto

Please Share...Tweet about this on Twitter0Share on Facebook0Share on Google+0Share on LinkedIn0Pin on Pinterest0Share on TumblrShare on StumbleUpon0Share on Reddit0Email this to someone

Mofro's sizzling new CD – their first on Alligator Records – goes deep-fried with a panful of swampy blues and Stax-Volt soul. JJ Grey's direct, concise songwriting has sharpened, while the band's incantatory live shows translate better to disc here than on past recordings. The triumphant result strengthens Mofro's position as the most important rock force to come out of the deep South in a while – maybe since Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Many bands think they can make magical songs out of repetitive grooves; few can. But Mofro comes out swinging with the mid-tempo rocker "War." Muscling through any and all distractions with its borrowed 1960s sounds, it pounds out a twenty-first century message: "There's a war going on⁄And the ones about to die are safe at home⁄There's a war going on⁄And the world stops feeling now." Grey doesn't have to preach about the destruction of the environment and the degradation of a people's soul, however much those issues may weigh on him. It's all there in a plain image and a single insistent riff.

The intensity actually mounts with a shift to a more personal theme in the deliberately paced "Circles." Pushed along by Grey's rolling electric piano, the song builds to a chorus that hangs on one desperately tense, off-rhythm, one-note melody: "There's no way I can change the past or your pain⁄I don't want to fight walking in circles." The bitter narrator of the title track doesn't want any handouts or "Hollywood words"; "The only voice that speaks for me speaks from this clay." And the slow-building, persistent guitar and harmonica almost sound like clay.

The delusional, drug-addled figure in "Tragic" ("Are those FBI agents still hiding in his pine trees?") isn't so different from the protagonist of "By My Side," where Grey uses his most powerfully soulful singing to declare humbly, "Now you know just how feeble/and how weak a man can be." The slow, tribal-sounding "On Palastine" – about rapacious, early twentieth century timber barons – evokes a violent past with place names and earthen imagery, musically akin to Peter Matthiessen's Florida novels. The mostly instrumental "Footsteps" is like a lost Doors jam with shades of Fleetwood Mac.

The blues-rock caterwaul of "Turpentine" takes you "deep in the piney woods" both in its lyrics and its oppressive rhythm, and then, just when you're starting to think that Grey and Co. might have milked all they can out of simple grooves, along comes a complete change of pace, a soul ballad about love called "A Woman." (Grey wrote it for Cassandra Wilson but she didn't record it.) Then Grey shows off his vocal versatility by channeling Dr. John in "Mississippi" and Sam Cooke in "The Sun Is Shining Down." The latter, characteristically, sets his most optimistic lyrics to slow, somber music that ramps up into a triumphant gospel chorus. In the epilogic "Goodbye" Grey breaks out a melancholy, distant falsetto for an appropriately musing signoff.

Among the excellent musicians who support Grey's multi-instrumental talents, drummer George Sluppick deserves special mention for his easy, deep-pocketed beats. But JJ Grey is the man of the hour.

Powered by

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is an Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. He writes the blog Park Odyssey, for which he is visiting and blogging every park in New York City—over a thousand of them. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. By night he's a working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.
  • Nolan Teter

    Thank you for this insightful review of this amazing, down to earth band’s new cd. I had the good fortune of meeting Mr. Grey very briefly before a show in Miami and he was gracious, genuine and friendly. I saw them perform in Fort Lauderdale last year and they played Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor” and it was the most powerful performance I have ever seen (and I once saw The Clash from the front row). Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if there was a radio station that would play Mofro tunes?

  • http://www.butterflyfiction.com/journal/ Connie Phillips

    Congrats! This article has been forwarded to the Advance.net websites.

  • Clay

    Nice stuff… well put.

    JJ Grey & Mofro have a new record hitting Aug 26, 2008. They will be touring the U.S. extensively through Nov in support of “Orange Blossoms,” their 4th album. You can learn more on their website or the Mofro fansite.