Album review: Uncompromised emotion with JJ Grey & Mofro, ‘Ol’ Glory’

JJ Grey
J.J. Grey & Mofro’s eighth studio album, “Ol’ Glory,” might be his best.
JJ Grey & Mofro is a soul powerhouse and its newest release “Ol’ Glory” will the rock the body of anyone who decides to press play. “Ol’ Glory” is the most soulful album JJ Grey and Mofro have ever produced. 1960s and ’70’s soul have always been a foundation of the band’s sound and they have mixed it with swamp rock, blues, funk, country and R&B since the release of its first album “Blackwater” in 2001. But “Ol’ Glory” really punctuates the soul element of the band, as if Stax and Muscle Shoals records were on rotation a little more than usual during recording, and does so in a very bombastic way. JJ Grey & Mofro appear Friday, May 22, in Cargo @ Whitney Peak Hotel in downtown Reno. The Mark Sexton Band opens at 8 p.m. Tickets: LINK The album bursts open with a grinning horn line from the Hercules Horns, Dennis Marion on trumpet and Jeff Dazey on saxophone, on the opener “Everything Is a Song” and moves into a rolling beat that celebrates all the joy life has to offer. The melody and chord progression bring to mind Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” albeit with more muscle and force. “A Night To Remember” is so distinctively Memphis soul that it seems like Grey is covering Otis Redding rather than being influenced by him. Grey swaggers with the beat singing, “I flipped up my collar ah man / I went ahead and put on my best James Dean / and you’d a thought I was Clark Gable squinting through that smoke.” His intentions are clear and the song will certainly be a calling card in a live setting for lovers to groove a little harder together. Grey’s live performances are fierce and defined by relentless energy and uncompromised emotion from Grey and the rest of his band. “Ol’ Glory” captures that fire more so than any of the band’s other releases. Perhaps this has to do with the fact many songs feel like they could be played as the encore to drive the crowd into one more frenzy. “Brave Lil’ Fighter” has the urgent emotion of a Curtis Mayfield song and a soaring outro solo from Dennis Marion on trumpet. “Tic Tac Toe” uses the quintessential formula of slow building verses that erupt in the chorus to draw one into a state of exuberance, and the fuzz factor on Andrew Trube’s guitar push the song into stadium-sized rock. The title track pumps for over seven minutes as Grey practically screams in his iconic swamp drawl over a bare-knuckled beat from drummer Anthony Cole. The band is at its tightest and funkiest on the track and an organ solo by Anthony Farrell is a highlight. It is a soul revival of the tallest order that will have people dancing until they physically break down. JJ Grey has long been heralded as an emotive singer but this album has Grey singing in the most passionate tone that he has captured on tape. Grey’s depth on “Light A Candle” is astonishing and it is one of the best songs he has ever recorded. Acoustic numbers “The Island” and “Hurricane” hold up solely due to Grey’s sincere melodic singing. The excellence of “Ol’ River” is not surprising given JJ Grey and Mofro’s track work of quality music. What is surprising is how long this band has been churning out quality music and with seven studio releases it has never delivered an effort not worthy of high praise. “Ol’ River” is no exception.  
JJ Grey albumJJ Grey and Mofro ‘Ol’ Glory’ Provogue Records Release: Feb. 24, 2015 Notable Tracks: “Ol’ Glory,” “Light A Candle,” “A Night To Remember” Purchase: LINK
   

ABOUT Garrett Bethmann

Garrett Bethmann
Garrett Bethmann is a graduate of University of Mary Washington with a degree in English. An eight-year resident of Lake Tahoe, he now lives in Denver, Colorado.

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