ALBUM REVIEW: Roots and soul found in ‘This River’

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First Posted: 4/8/2013

Jacksonville, Fla.-bred JJ Grey is the missing link between vintage, steamy Stax/Muscle Shoals R&B and more contemporary roots/soul muscle like Derek Trucks and The North Mississippi All-Stars.

On “This River,” the sound is an unmistakably Southern experience – barefooted grooves for days; funky, reverbed guitars; and gut-busting vocals screaming out for salvation. Grey’s writing is filled with tales of characters lost to time, as well as shades of self-reluctance, and carefree celebration of life’s simplest pleasures. He’s a man taking his demons to task on tape and sending them off with a zen-like creativity and backwoods attack that lands him and his band, Mofro, at the knife’s edge of 2013 roots music.

Immediately striking, as with most JJ Grey and Mofro records, is the bottom-heavy, analog drum and bass swamp groove – easily one of the band’s hallmarks. The Buddy Miles/Band of Gypsys-meets-Sly Stone funk of “Your Lady, She’s Shady” features said groove set to Grey’s fractured rhythm guitar lines, burning enough smoke to pass off as a redneck, soft-toed James Brown slip ‘n shake. “Somebody Else” is a slower, horn-laced throwback, echoing the mightiest Wilson Pickett-esque Memphis soul throwdown.

“99 Shades of Crazy” takes uplifting, Staples Singers-themed gospel vocals and “Three Snakes and One Charm”-era Black Crowes Americana experimentation to dizzying dance floor rapture. “Florabama” is similarly funked-out, Curtis Mayfield-inspired booty shake, Grey playing it coy amid jockeying for the perfect sun-kissed party (“You know a little sweat never hurt nobody”).

Grey also proves he can dig into life’s woeful, forgotten underbelly with “The Ballad Of Larry Webb,” a country-tinged, cry-in-your-beer ode to a man that, while severely devoid of luck, embodied the love shared “when all we have is each other.”

A decidedly Southern pen guides Grey’s hand as he makes his definitive soul statement. Emotive roots music whose seeds are sown in classic black R&B, Grey’s easily accessible to fans of everything from The Black Keys, G. Love, Gov’t Mule, and beyond.

JJ Grey & Mofro ‘This River’ Rating: W W W W