JJ Grey and Mofro provide a connection to the past and a time when talent and tenacity moved the music forward.
"Today’s music ain’t got the same soul," Bob Seger once lamented, and apparently that’s a lesson that JJ Grey & Mofro have taken to heart. The Jacksonville, Florida-based band has sustained itself for more than a dozen years, taking inspiration from its southern surroundings (as if a song such as "Florida" and "Lochloosa" leave any doubt) and archival instincts honed in a city that bears a distinctive musical history all its own. While an allegiance to the blues inspired an early affiliation with the roots label Alligator Records, it soon became evident that the group was moving into more contemporary realms, an area that finds them well in tune with today’s populist precepts. Enlisting Derek Trucks from the Allman Brothers and Tedeschi Trucks Band and Toots Hibbert from Toots and the Maytals for their fifth album, Georgia Warhouse, seems an appropriate move, but in truth Grey offers a sound that satisfies on its own. He may be the only constant member of this ensemble, but he’s overseen the band’s evolution into a tight knit soulful ensemble.
Evidence of that achievement is easily head on the group’s latest offering, the aptly titled Ol’ Glory, an album infused with archival R&B. It effectively emulates a style that was once prevalent in the ‘60s and ‘70s, well before rap and hip hop ransacked black music almost entirely. This is the sound of Stax, Hi and the other signature labels of that particularly abundant era.
Opening track "Everything Is a Song" sets the tone, a celebratory, brass-infused anthem of assurance that recalls Al Green or Otis Redding in all their transient glory. The other songs that follow affirm that notion, with songs that range from the funky grooves of "Turn Loose" and the title track to more austere offerings like "The Island" and "The Hurricane". The combination of horns, rhythm and, of course, Grey’s emotive vocals underscore the melodies’ flash and frenzy, but clearly there’s more to these sentiments than that. When the band aims for gospel glory on the rousing "Home in the Sky", Grey and Mofro’s reveal a spiritual slant that rarely strays far from the surface. This is inspirational music in every sense, even in secular settings. It does, after all, take an approach that’s flush with the feeling and conviction only authentic soul can offer.
More than any singular sense of triumph, Ol’ Glory is a reminder of the otherwise forgotten glory of a uniquely American hybrid, one that’s been all but buried in the swell of contemporary trends and oddball artists that have forsaken what remains of their roots and gone headfirst into realms that have little regard for feelings and finesse. JJ Grey and Mofro provide a connection to the past and a time when talent and tenacity moved the music forward. Hallelujah for Ol’ Glory. It's a prime example of what genuine Americana ought to emulate.