Grassroots support is arguably the best kind of recognition an artist can receive. Nurtured carefully, it grows with the artist as he or she achieves a higher profile, and interest grows in their back catalogue. So it is with blues/gospel/funk hybrid band Mofro, whose Country Ghetto
(Alligator Records, 2007) elevated their popularity a significant notch or two, prompting Alligator (who know more than a little about marketing the blues) to reissue the band's first two albums....
Mofro Blackwater Alligator
With an understated stylethat may or may not find favor with fans of flash and the standard trappings of Dixie RockMofro nevertheless captures the ambience and attitude of the south with their distinctive mix of genres. On the opening title cut, one senses the musicians working their way into their music and onto each other's wavelength. The rhythmic foundation of "Ho Cake" is ideal support for the honking saxophone and sleek organ lines played by Nathan Shepherd, and guest Robert Walter's clavinet further spices this homage to culinary delights.
There's a wilful provincialism in Mofro's music that extends beyond their musical style. While it may be off-putting to some listeners, it is nonetheless genuine (though perhaps laid on a bit thick at times, as in "Dirtfloorcracker.") Nevertheless, the visceral pull of syncopation in "Nare Sugar" is as deeply felt as the undercurrent of gospel on the piano-dominated "Free;" the depth and soul in this music derives from absorbing life experiences and accurately translating those experiences through music, a process vocalist/guitarist JJ Grey, guitarist Daryl Hance and their comrades achieved quite thoroughly on this debut album.
The informality of the sessions comes through quite clearly in this HDCD mastering, revealing a spontaneity in the group's interaction that ultimately becomes a virtue all its own. It's a tribute to Mofro's chemistry that this languorous pace never falters even as tracks through the course of the album extend into the four and five minute realm.
Blackwater's successor Lochloosa is only slightly less steeped in its place and time and only slightly more conventional with it. Grey's sidekick Daryl Hance is more prominent on slide guitar (though, as such, relegated to a lesser role) while Grey himself uses acoustic guitar more often as the foundation for songs such as "That Boy" and "Fireflies."
The latter tune, like the title song, carries a message of resistance to land "development" on behalf of the Florida homebase from which Mofro comes. The environmental theme that arises from a broad interpretation of such songs contemporizes this rootsy music and makes Alligator the ideal label for the group.
There's a palpable sense of continuity between these first two Mofro albums, even though there was a three-year gap between their releases. Accordingly, there's no such thing as a genuinely speedy tempo here, but "How Junior Got His Head Put Out" is more than a little spirited and its choppy syncopation is a solid foundation for Grey's wailing harp.
Overall, however, Mofro's music is the definition of laidback and so may be of only limited appeal to those fans who prefer a wider range of dynamism (this despite the shifting textures that include crisp electric piano in this understated approach). Yet this is not a band at a loss for ideas. Rather, the sound of both these early albums, much like the more recent (and more expansive) Country Ghetto, is that of a group confidently burrowing into their own imitable groove.
These enhanced and extended editions of Blackwater and Lochloosa are worth getting even for the select few who possess the original releases (which remain collector's items). Given the durability of this music and the solidarity of the band that recorded them, it's a win/win situation for all involved when it comes to Mofro.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Blackwater; Ho Cake; Air; Jookhouse; Nare Sugar; Free; Florida; Cracka Break; Lazy Fo Acre; Santa Claus; True Love And Freedom; Frog Giggin'; Whitehouse; Brighter Days.
Personnel: JJ Grey: vocals, guitar, harmonica,; Daryl Hance: dobro; guitar; Fabrice Quentin: bass; Nathan Shepherd: keyboards, saxophone; George Sluppick: drums, percussion, background vocals; Robert Walter: clavinet, electric piano; Siemy Di: drums.
Tracks: Y'all Ready; That Boy; Lochloosa; Dirtfloorcracker; Fireflies; Ten Thousand Islands; Six Ways From Sunday; The Wrong Side; Everybody's; Gal Youngin; How Junior Got His Head Put Out; The Long Way Home.
Personnel: JJ Grey: vocals, bass, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, electric piano, harmonica, tambourine; Daryl Hance: slide guitar; Fabrice Quentin: bass, shaker; Nathan Shepherd: keyboards, saxphone; George Sluppick: drums, percussion, background vocals; Mike Shapiro: piano, electric piano; Todd Sickafoose: bass; Malcolm Melbourne: acoustic guitar, slide guitar, backing vocals.