Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: JJ Grey & Mofro, Country Ghetto

Through two previous CDs JJ Grey & Mofro were just Mofro.  Often it’s a bad sign when one member of a band separates himself from the group and demands name billing.  However, mofrothat may not be the case here.  “Country Ghetto” is the band’s first album on the Alligator label and the name change may have been a marketing move on Alligator’s part.  (Whatever the case may be, if you want to hear the group’s earlier efforts, and many will after listening to “Country Ghetto”, search on Mofro rather than JJ Grey.)  Whether the name change reflects ego or marketing, the band’s new name fairly reflects Grey’s contribution to “Country Ghetto”, he wrote and arranged all the songs, sings lead vocal, plays bass and harmonica, and shares guitar duties with Daryl Hance.

Mofro is a four piece with Adam Scone (organ, organ bass) and George Sluppick (drums) joining Grey and Hance.  They play a blues oriented form of swamp rock and southern soul in the Otis Redding mold.  And they do a very good job of it.  Grey is an accomplished singer and his vocals are Mofro’s main strength.  His voice is rough and his phrasing can carry great emotional weight.  Tracks like “A Woman” put to rest the “Can white people do the Otis Redding thing?” question once and for all.  They can.  Grey ain’t no Otis – but then again, nobody else is either.  Grey’s not as strong a songwriter as he is a singer.  A couple of tracks reach but fall short – which is better than not reaching at all.  For example, “The Sun is Shining Down” strives for the big vocal chorus driven paean to surviving in the face of difficulty that any number of gospel songs do with much more conviction and power.  The title track is meant to be an anthem for the hard working people of the rural American South but it, and the brief liner notes Grey includes in the CD booklet, lay it on too thick.  Both come across as somewhat self-pitying and self-righteous.  A lot of people in a lot of places have been and continue to be economically depressed and subjected to negative stereotypes.  You can use this to become defensive and insular about your heritage or you can use it to see that the world is full of otherwise very different peoples who are one in their shared experience of being subjected to the same bullshit from the privileged elites.  On the other hand, tracks like “War”, “Walking in Circles” (great hook on this one), and “Mississippi” all hit the mark.  “Country Ghetto” is a strong album that gives every indication that we will hear more good things from this band.


06/06/2007 - Posted by | CD reviews, music

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