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JJ Grey & Mofro

Orange Blossoms

(Alligator Records; US: 26 Aug 2008; UK: 1 Sep 2008)

It’d be hard to hear JJ Grey & Mofro’s Orange Blossoms without realizing they’re from somewhere deep in the South, with their humid grooves and (do I have to say it?) swampy tones. But pinning down the rough range of the group’s geography is simpler than nailing down what initially seems like a straightforward musical syncretism. The band’s steeped in R&B, and tracks like “Dew Drops” could have grown from classic soul sounds, or maybe from Stax gradually drifting toward the Gulf. Other cuts, like “Ybor City” have more to do with Mississippi hill country blues, grinding into a meaning. More often, the group finds a middle ground, often pulling in other influences. The opening title track (also one of the album’s most affecting numbers) even has a hint of late ‘60s psychedelia. The band never dives into a deep funk, but never skitters, staying grounded without plodding. While seemingly in a middle ground, they’re never stuck, continually opening their sound, reaching—lyrically and musically—the often hidden optimistic side of the blues. It’s a place that, while maybe not too hard to find, isn’t easy to pin down, and JJ Grey & Mofro pull it off wonderfully.

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Justin Cober-Lake lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his wife, kids, and dog. His writing has appeared in a number of places, including Stylus, Paste, Chord, and Trouser Press. His work made its first appearance on CD with the release of Todd Goodman's first symphony, Fields of Crimson. He's recently co-founded the literary fly-fishing journal Rise Forms.


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