JJ Grey & Mofro: Georgia Warhorse (2010)
The CD sounds like a throwback at first, as it begins with "Diyo Dayo," a slow, deep, rock groove topped off with wailing blues harp. The title song elaborates on that sound with jagged slide guitar, while "King Hummingbird" is a gorgeous R&B-rooted ballad, set in a sparse arrangement of acoustic guitar and a mix of bass and drums that remains prominent throughout. Grey is no diva by any means: his emotive chanting near the end of the track is the sound of a man caught up in, but nevertheless in control of, his deepest passions.
"The Sweetest Thing" moves at the same deliberate pace as many of the rest of the cuts, but with the inclusion of horns and an alternating vocal by reggae veteran Toots Hibbert, it's a bona fide soul tune. "All" is more of a danceable workout in the Otis Redding mold, with Grey's lead guitar interacting with horns that pump as hard as the rhythm section, while a gritty vocal drives home the point of the declaration within the song title. Adam Scone's pulsing Hammond B3 restates the classic sound and style with emphasis aplenty: Grey sets the tone for his accompanists in his demos and multi-instrumentalism and they obviously pick up on it.
Delving into topical concerns as a songwriter in recent years, Grey knows he can't make an effective statement in song without a provocative musical backing. Thus, with the light arrangement of Art Edmiston on tenor saxophone and Dennis Marion on trumpet, "Gotta Know," clocking in at just over six minutes, still seems to be over shortly after it begins. Similarly, "Hide and Seek," due to the quick syncopation and sharp breakdowns in motion for its duration, ends right after it starts (or at least that how it sounds).
A positivism informs JJ Grey's best material, like the brightly melodic "Beautiful World." The detail within the contrasting lyrical images mirrors the filigreed electric and acoustic guitar work. In much the same way, the interlocking of drums and electric piano turns "Slow Hot & Sweaty" into the sensual workout the title suggests; nothing of prurient interest here, however, as Grey delivers the lyrics as naturally as the band plays the changes, an example of his grasp of the timeless elements of the blues, even more evident on the driving tempo of "The Hottest Spot in Hell."
The guitar of Derek Trucks is at once mesmerizing and mean during "Lullaby," concluding Georgia Warhorse in a fashion perfectly appropriate to the sacred and profane dualities within its music.
Track Listing: Diyo Dayo; King Hummingbird; The Sweetest Thing; All; Georgia Warhorse; Gotta Know; Hide and Seek; Beautiful World; Slow, Hot and Sweaty; The Hottest Spot in Hell; Lullaby.
Personnel: JJ Grey: lead vocals, backing vocals, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, acoustic 6 and 12 string guitar, piano, synthesizer, clavinet, talkbox, harmonica; Anthony Cole: drums; Anthony Farrell: Fender Rhodes electric piano, acoustic piano; Andrew Trube: bass, lap steel, acoustic guitar; Art Edmiston: tenor saxophone; Dennis Marion: trumpet; Adam Scone; Hammond B3 organ; Chris von Sneidorn: percussion.
Record Label: Alligator Records