Personnel: JJ Grey (vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, dobro, piano, Clavinet, tambourine, background vocals); Andrew Trube (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, dobro); Jeff Dazey (saxophone); Marcus Parsley (trumpet); Anthony Farrell (piano, Clavinet, organ, unknown instrument); Anthony Cole (organ, drums, percussion); Todd Smallie (double bass); Karlen Dennis (background vocals).
Recording information: Retrophonics Studio, Saint Augustine, FL.
Photographers: Dan Prothero; Tibor Nemeth; Spookie Daly.
Arranger: JJ Grey.
Normally, when musicians grow both in confidence and ambition over time it's considered a good thing. JJ Grey & Mofro's sound grew from a gritty, stripped-down hybrid they called "Lochloosa," a musical meld of swamp pop, funky gospel, Louisiana-tinged R&B, and roots rock. Lyrically, Grey spun myths from the rich, humid soil of his homeland straight into the band's grooves. Things got funkier and rowdier on 2010's Georgia Warhorse and 2013's This River, where they truly gelled. Now signed to Provogue, Grey's grandest musical statement yet lies on Ol' Glory, where it sounds like he's asserting himself as a frontman rather than a singer/songwriter fronting a band. Opener "Everything Is a Song" is a joyous, retro Muscle Shoals R&B-styled number with tight horns, ringing piano, and a gorgeous chorus of backing vocals from Kalen Michele Dennis and Grey. The gentle interplay of acoustic and electric slide guitars on "The Island" (courtesy of guest Luther Dickinson) is understated, poetic, and soulful. "Every Minute" features guest Derek Trucks' great lyrical and serpentine slide work and Dennis' killer backing vocals; it's prime Grey -- all balanced with nothing extra lyrically or musically. The horns actually act as support rather than a sonic wall to break through. The interplay between rock and R&B is natural, bluesy, and gritty. "Light a Candle" is gospelized R&B with rock & roll guitars. It actually testifies when the horns and backing vocals build a bridge to Grey's lead. On "Home in the Sky," Grey sounds like he's calling on the spirit of Gregg Allman's Laid Back for inspiration and it works. The deliberate slow-build drama of "Hold on Tight," as Grey and Dennis respond to his protagonist's swaggering declarations of lust in call and response, meld ragged, rockist blues and drop-line breakbeat funk. The earthy, backporch country of closer "Hurricane (with Dickinson) is another highlight on the set. ~ Thom Jurek