Soul food is a Southern staple. It’s said to possess a more distinct taste/flavor because it’s made with two indicative ingredients: love and soul.
Somehow, Alligator Record’s recording artist, JJ Grey and his band Mofro have found a way to pack that same love and soul from the kitchen into their music, creating a flavorful brand unlike any other.
The group’s latest release, Brighter Days, is the first live release from this Jacksonville, Fla., sensation. The album/DVD was recorded and filmed at the Variety Playhouse (Atlanta, Ga.) in January 2011.
Out of all the shows the group could have picked to record, we’re glad they chose this one.
Straight ‘outta the gate, Grey floods the audience with his notorious harmonica playing in Country Ghetto. The energy flowing through the harp, horns, vocals and drums differentiates this album from any studio album you may have previously heard.
Without wasting anytime, the group moves into Woman next, a much ‘bluesier’ track than the previous. The saxophone steals the spotlight in this number without a doubt. The live, raw and unfiltered elements transform this song into a brand new version of something formerly familiar.
It’s not until the fifth track, War, that you notice how “in the zone” the band really is. Fueled by Grey’s raspy blues voice, the music kicks into high gear around the three-minute mark when the frontman steps away from the mic, letting the music speak for itself. The keyboards, guitar and horns go at it with one another, yet wonderfully synchronized, displaying the talented depth possessed by this band.
And then, the soul comes in.
By far the highlight of this album is Lochloosa (sixth track). Grey introduces the song by speaking to the crowd about how special places can be:
“It’s all about home, man. You know, that’s where we’re all headed when we wanna be – wherever it may be.” “But it’s all about havin’ them places where you can just feel it – you can feel somethin’ come through, somethin’ shine through, somethin’ that takes you away from the world of problems. The world of worry. The world of care – and for me that little place is place called Lochloosa (right there between Gainsville and Ocala, Florida).”
Once he finishes speaking, the soulful sound of Grey’s harmonica takes command, silencing the crowd until he begins to sing. As soon as he lets out the first lyrics, you can hear the passion and love he feels for this place. And if his voice wasn’t enough, the entire crowd joins in on the heartfelt number, pouring more love into what is already present.
The rest of the album is just as entertaining. Grey and Mofro made sure to include crowd favorites such as Orange Blossoms, The Sweetest Thing, Dirtfloorcracker, On Fire and a few more to the set list, making sure no one left disappointed – and they didn’t.
This album is not only a landmark for the group, but also a testimony to their sound. It shows that while JJ Grey and Mofro have on hell-of-a sound in the studio, when on the stage live in front of an energized crowd, they’re that much better.
Even though Brighter Days is a good taste of the group’s live persona, like Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell said, “Ain’t nothin’ like the real thing baby.”
For a good helpin’ of Soul, be sure to catch JJ Grey during his SPRING TOUR in a city near you!
Side note: The film (DVD) intersperses riveting concert footage of JJ and his band Mofro with the stunning beauty of Grey’s north Florida home, the inspiration for so much of his music, and much more.