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J.J. Grey and Mofro

Country Ghetto

(Alligator; US: 20 Feb 2007; UK: Unavailable)

Swamp rock is the category under which this set is advertised. The band has a following, is about to tour in Europe as I write, and has a solid style with roots in rock. It’s hard to date: the lyric “there’s a war going on” could even be about Vietnam, presented as it is in a laid-back version of soul music that has been a useful genre for decades. The build-up of heat around a guitar interlude is impressive.


“Circles” begins with an attractive guitar figure, and proceeds with an impressive melancholy pretty much the rule here. “Country Ghetto” begins with blues harp, and the vocal announces someone who thinks he knows he’s never been more than “dumb white trash”.  Moody.  The harmonica is well-played, and refreshingly the guitar, as throughout most of the record, is devoted to enunciating telling phrases, not technical display. There’s a chorus behind some of the singing, restrained as the music here generally is.


“Tragic” begins with another example of weighted blues guitar, and builds up with added brass. “By My Side” emphasises the welcome desire for simplicity. “I ain’t goin’ nowhere with you by my side”, and the ladies of the chorus echo the complaint. There’s a sort of blues tonality, but the genre’s a sort of white soul.


For a change, “Footsteps” begins noisy with echoey guitar, pauses, backbeat enters, but suspicions we are going to hear blues are dispersed by the echo chamber from which distant voices and blues harp come, something deliberately unfocussed. “Turpentine”, with guitar and siren, has more literal echoes and echoes of blues, including a blues figure on guitar. “A Woman (Wants to Be Loved by Her Man)” has some soulish brass and backing voices, and a soul singer lead vocal.


“Mississippi” has much the same support. An organ wells up in a gentle wave from the background, the brass is quiet, and the drumming rocks with hefty backbeat. The vocal this time strains less; it has an endearing melancholy making me wonder what these “good things going on in Mississippi” are. Is the lyric ironic? Or is the singer feeling a bit black about not being in Mississippi?


A hint of strings is in the intro to “The Sun Is Shining Down”, and the voice is straining again, before going quiet and slightly sentimental, “simple things, simple things”, with piano in the support and the guitarist not trying to be clever.  There’s an attractive start to “Goodbye,” piano to the fore and gentle singing, almost falsetto, “so hard to say goodbye”. The instrumental interlude is piano with echoes from the organ. A pretty accompaniment to a plaintive vocal, and a sudden stop, “so hard to say…”.

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