Our review and interview with JJ Grey
All the Dope on JJ Grey & Mofro …aka All Shades Of Grey
Latest Album – Ol’ Glory – Reviewed
JJ Grey Interview
This review has taken me a long time to write.
Not that I haven’t had the words in my head.
Not that I am struggling to express myself.
Not that I can’t think of good things to say.
It’s just this…
I haven’t been able to stop playing Ol’ Glory by JJ Grey & Mofro.
It’s like a book you can’t put down.
I keep absorbing the album’s many intricacies and pleasures, hearing something subtlety new to add to my thoughts on this supreme collection.
JJ Grey is a Floridian, Jacksonville in fact. He and his band Mofro have been together in one form or another since the late 90’s. The current line-up is Anthony Cole (drums), Andrew Trube (guitar), Anthony Farrell (organ), Todd Smallie (bass), Dennis Marion (trumpet) and Jeff Dazey (saxophone). Together they make a celebrated, soulful and powerful ensemble and just this week they have presented us with a sixth studio album in only eight years. I’m pretty well across over half those releases and last year I got to see him and the band up close in person for the first time (Roots n Blues n BBQ festival in Columbia MO).
His presence before the audience in Columbia was startling and immensely personable, a delightful mix of soul, rocking funk and delicate ballads. The most striking moment of enlightenment, though, was the evangelical and fearless manner in which he delivered his songs – a boundless compassion and honesty.
I believe this to be JJ’s finest outing yet and that’s saying something. I am wondering whether I feel this way because Ol’ Glory is the first new release since I’ve seen him live or is it simply the recording itself – the fact that it simply reflects the fierceness and intimacy of a Grey live performance. “I wanted that crucial lived-in feel,” Grey says of Ol’ Glory, and here he has nailed it.
When he isn’t touring, Grey exerts his prodigious energies on the family land, a former chicken-farm that was run by his maternal grandmother and grandfather. The farm boasts a recording studio, a warehouse that doubles as Grey’s gym (he looks supremely fit), and an open-air barn. The farms and eddying swamps of his youth are as much a part of Grey’s music as the Louisiana swamp-blues tradition, or the singer’s collection of old Stax records.
Ol’ Glory found him spending more time than ever working over the new material. “I would visit it much more often in my mind, visit it more often on the guitar in my house,” Grey says. “I like an album to have a balance, like a novel or like a film. A triumph, a dark brooding moment, or a moment of peace—that’s the only thing I consistently try to achieve with a record.”
Ol’ Glory continues the themes that run through previous material – a strong sense of place and the dogged pursuit of happiness and contentment.
“The Island” is one the album’s two slower songs and shows JJ’s voice to be equally impressive with the delicate and well as with the less restrained material. Then there’s the swaggering hip hop infused “A Night to Remember” and in “Turn Loose” Grey is in fast-rhyme mode in keeping with the song’s title: “You work a stride / curbside thumbing a ride / on Lane Avenue / While your kids be on their knees / praying Jesus please.”
“Brave Lil’ Fighter” is a soulful epic, a visceral, soaring masterpiece. Somewhere along its impressive length the trumpet takes it to a higher, surreal plane, causing the hairs on your neck to stand at attention, ready to run around the block. “Home In The Sky” showcases Grey’s dominant and heartfelt vocals, while “Hold On Tight” is a creeping, über-funky wah wah number. “Tic Tac Toe” is another showcase of a slow burning vibe eating into your head, a story of fear and courage. The title track “Ol’ Glory” is uplifting and undeniable – command-and-response chanting, get on your knees and feel it!!
Ol’ Glory was recorded at Retrophonics Studio in Saint Augustine FL where Grey has recorded many times. From all reports, Grey is an avid surfer and likes to combine beach mornings with studio afternoons. Special guests include Luther Dickinson’s tasteful dobro and electric slide guitar while Derek Trucks offers a burning guitar solo.
One of the albums of the year.
I think I might put it on again…
Ol’ Glory Track List
01. Everything Is A Song
02. The Island
03. Every Minute
04. A Night To Remember
05. Light A Candle
06. Turn Loose
07. Brave Lil’ Fighter
08. Home In The Sky
09. Hold On Tight
10. Tic Tac Toe
11. Ol’ Glory
12. The Hurricane
LTTL: Hi. Do your friends call you JJ or by your real name – is it John?
JJ: It’s John and people call by both. JJ was short for Jon Jon which is what my
family calls me.
I read somewhere that the term Mofro was originally a nickname bestowed
on you by a co-worker? Does it mean anything or is it just made up.
Yeah a buddy of mine called me that but not all the time. I thought I’d use it
for a musical name since it sounded southern but didn’t mean anything in
I saw you and the band in Columbia Missouri at the roots n blues n BBQ
festival last year. I sort of knew what to expect musically from your albums,
but what struck me was the obvious fun you were having on stage with the
ensemble. You guys must have a tight bond? Has the band been in much
the same configuration in the past few years?
This group has been together for a couple of years now. I love hearing them
play and everybody enjoys jamming and hanging together. I can’t say enough
how much these guys rock! It’s a pleasure every show to hear them make my
musical dreams come true!
The other highlight for me that day was your heartfelt dialogue and honesty
about the ups and downs of life? It was a little evangelical to my mind? Is
there any gospel or religious influences in what you present?
I was definitely influenced by all of that. I grew up in it and I’m sure it
comes out whether I realize it or not. I just want to share an honest
moment with anyone. It never feels to me as if there is an audience there.
It always feels like we’re playing to one person at the time even if there are
50 or 5000 of them standing there together listening.
The new album Ol’ Glory has just been released world-wide and is about
your sixth studio release I calculate. It’s a terrific album and stands among
the best work you have done. How long was the gestation period?
It’s actually the 7th. Most of the album started happening right after
finishing This River. The song Turn Loose is a lot older. It was one of those
older songs that I had not finished all the lyrics for. I finally got it down on
this session. I had about 15 songs ready when we hit the studio and I had the
band familiar with maybe 10 of them at that point. From there the album
just sort of made itself.
I can’t stop listening to “Brave Lil’ Fighter” from the new album. It’s an epic
and I love the way it escalates well into its length with some passionate and
uplifting trumpet out front. Can you tell me a little about the song and its
The song is about a good friend of mine and a fatally bad decision he made.
I demoed it in my studio at home by myself and then the band just jammed
with the demo. I kept hearing in my head a Sergio Leone type ending on the
song so I hummed the outro line of the trumpet solo to Marcus (who played
trumpet on the album). He started his solo with it then took it to a whole
other level. I am extremely fortunate and grateful to get to play with the
people I get to play with. They bring it to life.
Your Australian tour in April is your first visit to these shores?
I stayed in on the north shore in Sydney with my wife’s family for a month
back in the early 90’s. I loved it so much down there that it inspired me to
get off my ass back home and get a little more serious about my music. We
also played at Bluesfest 6 years ago. We’re all chomping at the bit to come
back and play there again.
You have two sets I think at Bluesfest and one other show in
Sydney. I am shattered that you won’t be playing in Melbourne! Is that a
reflection of the economics of moving such a large outfit around pretty
A little of that but more of the fact that I won’t stay away from my family
for more than 3 weeks. I made that promise to myself a while back. I came
home from a long tour and my daughter had grown an inch taller. I vowed
then that, that wouldn’t happen again. We’re only in Australia for a week
this time, if we were there longer I would’ve brought the family down. BUT!
We will be back a lot sooner than last time and we will play in Melbourne.
I’ve always wanted to play in Melbourne plus my brother-in-laws brother has
a cafe there and I want to check it out too.
Our review and interview with JJ Grey