Photo by Darren Jacknisky
Rising Florida swamp music-maker JJ Grey and his backing band Mofro are joined by guests Toots Hibbert and Derek Trucks on the new album ‘Georgia Warhorse,’ which will be released August 24 on Alligator Records, promising to be a frontrunner for best American roots album in 2010.
Recorded in a studio full of vintage equipment in Grey’s native Florida (near the Georgia line), the album’s unvarnished, natural sound mirrors Grey’s love of the rustic Florida backwoods, where his family has lived for generations. The album, ‘Georgia Warhorse,’ named for a particularly tenacious type of southern grasshopper, is also descriptive of Grey himself. “The Georgia Warhorse is real tough but a chilled out little thing,” says Grey. “Nothing seems to rile them. They’re in no hurry but they have a kind of resilience. They keep coming back.” Grey could be described in such words; his own career has grown over the course of a decade of winning over fans night after night – a process that has him poised to be a breakout artist in 2010. He still spends eight months of the year on the road. “I began singing in chicken wire clubs in Florida in my teens, and I’ve been leading my own band every since” he explains.
The eclecticism of the new album is also keeping with the JJ Grey tradition, chronicled over the course of his four previous albums. The in-the-pocket, Memphis-style soul of “The Sweetest Thing,” written around a horn line that was in Grey’s head for days, contrasts with the stripped-down acoustic 12-string guitar work on “King Hummingbird.” The hard-driving groove of “The Hottest Spot In Hell” speaks to personal experience as well as the heat of his home state. The constants are Grey’s full-throated vocals, his funky-as-hell arrangements and his consistently great writing in the southern literary tradition.
In a live review in the New York Times, Nate Chinen praised JJ’s “loose derivation of Southern swamp rock, with undercurrents of Memphis soul. His songs chronicle ambiguous truths and unambiguous urges, occasionally lighting on a righteous cause.” He goes on to praise the band’s “balance of wildness and cool.” Likewise, Billboard has praised Grey’s “idiosyncratic vibe – a world-beating blend of Southern rock, blues and Florida swamp soul.”
Over the course of his 20-plus year career, JJ Grey has shared stages with the likes of the Allman Brothers Band, the Black Crowes, Los Lobos, Jeff Beck, Ben Harper, Booker T, Lenny Kravitz, and Mavis Staples and has performed at The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Fest and The Austin City Limits Festival, among others.