released August 24th, 2010
from the album - The Sweetest Thing
from all music
Born and bred in Florida, JJ Grey plays music that mixes raw rural blues with tough, swampy Southern rock, generating a sound that has a loose, natural feel while maintaining a potent edge, and his songs draw deep on his heritage as well as his clear-eyed perspective on the world around him. Grey grew up in a small town 40 miles south of Jacksonville, FL, and when he was young he developed a passion for surfing. While Grey enjoyed several years wandering the world's beaches as a surf bum, his love of music brought him back home and he began honing his skills as a guitarist and writing songs.
While working a day job fixing air conditioners, Grey met Daryl Hance, a co-worker who played guitar. Grey wanted to start a band and he teamed up with Hance to form JJ Grey & Mofro, who earned a loyal following in the South for their gritty swamp rock. In 1994, a record company in Great Britain heard Grey's demo and offered Mofro a record deal; the band flew to the U.K. for recording sessions, but the deal fell through at the last minute, and Grey and Hance assembled a new version of Mofro with English musicians in hopes of landing another contract.
Ironically, Grey's search for a new record deal brought him back to the United States when his music came to the attention of Dan Prothero, a producer and engineer who runs the San Francisco-based independent label Fog City Records. Prothero liked Grey and Mofro's music, and both produced and released their 2001 debut album, Blackwater. A second album with Fog City, Lochloosa, appeared in 2004, and Grey and Mofro developed a growing nationwide fan base through constant touring and positive word of mouth, playing coveted spots on the festival circuit (including Bonnaroo, the Austin City Limits Festival, and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival) and opening for everyone from Jeff Beck to Ben Harper.
In 2006, Grey signed a deal with the venerable blues label Alligator Records, and with Prothero once again behind the controls, Grey and Mofro cut their third album, Country Ghetto, which was released in early 2007, and the critically acclaimed Orange Blossoms appeared in 2008. In 2010, Grey and Mofro issued Georgia Warhorse, their third album for Alligator; the set featured guests appearances from Derek Trucks and Toots Hibbert.
Maybe number five is the charm? Not that JJ Grey and his ever evolving backing band Mofro care. But it's possible that Georgia Warhorse may be the record that pulls them from the glorified cult status they've enjoyed for a decade into the lights on the mainstream's fringes — but don't count on it. Grey's music is far too real; too poetically, sonically, and atmospherically rooted in vintage Southern soul, rock and blues traditions to translate readily into radio fodder. Georgia Warhorse (named for a tenacious and resilient species of grasshopper) contains 11 new originals, recorded at Jim DeVito's Retrophonics Studio in St. Augustine — as were all four previous albums. The music is steeped in funky, greasy, slippery Southern R&B, blues and rock. The backbone slipping slow-grind funk of "Diya Dayo" opens the set with a wailing harmonica, a chunky single string vamp and a Howlin' Wolf meets Stax chorused refrain. Grey changes it up immediately with two ballads, the first of which, the seven-minute "King Hummingbird," is one of the most beautiful things here. It drips with raw, laidback swamp soul. (Chris Robinson would give his eye teeth to have written, let alone sung, it.) "The Sweetest Thing" features the signature voice of Toots Hibbert, Grey's greatest influence after Otis Redding. With a Muscle Shoals-styled horn chart, the pair take a midtempo ballad and mold it into a sensual, simmering love song. The title track is a gritty blues eco-manifesto from the grasshopper's point of view. "Slow, Hot & Sweaty," introduced by a Rhodes piano, is representative of its title and scorches with its brazenly sexual heat. "The Hottest Spot in Hell," is the most uptempo thing here, an overtly bluesly rocker. But Grey's deep ringing baritone pulls from Memphis soul rather than Southern Rock. The B3 twsts in your gut and the snare breaks pop in your spine. The set closes with "Lullaby," featuring guest Derek Trucks. It commences slowly, a shimmering soul number; but it morphs into a crescendo of blues, trancelike drums, wide-open horns and chanted vocals that bring the album down around the listener. Georgia Warhorse, like each of its its predecessors, is another giant step forward in terms of its craft and quality. It will no doubt find the space in our culture that yet remains for music that's as authentic as the ground under your feet, because that's where it comes from — just before it moves, simply and directly, through the body of the listener, into the human heart.
1 Diyo Dayo Grey 3:58
2 King Hummingbird Grey 6:57
3 The Sweetest Thing Grey 4:28
4 All Grey 4:26
5 Georgia Warhorse Grey 5:44
6 Gotta Know Grey 6:04
7 Hide & Seek Grey 3:44
8 Beautiful World Grey, Petraglia 4:00
9 Slow, Hot & Sweaty Grey 4:37
10 The Hottest Spot In Hell Grey 4:02
11 Lullaby Grey 4:55