When you have to search in the morning for a cd that you have been playing non-stop for days - in order to continue playing it in the car on the way to work - you know you have a keeper in my opinion. Even more so, when your teenage son now knows the lyrics and can sing the tunes independently and randomly – complete with phantom but accurate drumwork. (Although in truth, this could be due to the fact that I still have to drive him everywhere and he therefore remains a captive sponge for his mother’s musical tastes ...) But I digress. I’m excited to share the latest pearl that I have discovered this week with you, dear readers, in the form of the very wonderful JJ Grey and Mofro’s Orange Blossomsalbum.
The thing that strikes a listener first about this cd is that there are many assorted and varied influences at work; indeed, I wrestled with whether or not I could review it here and present it as a true blues album even though JJ Grey and Mofro are signed with the well known, predominantly blues-based Alligator label and appear regularly at blues festivals. But there are such a variety of sounds here: the blues of course, the so-called “swamp rock,” funk certainly and definitely an older, sophisticated kind of country song sensibility that just shines through with a deep southern purity not often seen in recent times. In the end, I decided that many people who enjoy the blues would definitely go for this album and be impressed with the originality of what is achieved here. Nothing hackneyed certainly and the resulting highly unique yet vintage sound – not overly processed either – is sincere and articulate. And I make no apologies for adding catchy to the mix as well because it’s a great listen without ever verging into pappy pop territory.
Incidentally, if I sound like I am gushing here it’s because, geez - I guess I kinda am!
Orange Blossoms is the opening upbeat, hooky title track and sets the promising tone for what is to come. JJ’s lyrics and sense of what to do with them is outstanding in this one – I especially like that he has allowed his southern-speak to dominate and flavour the piece so that, for example, “standing here” becomes “he-yeah.” Simple, but sooo great. Hey, I can smell those orange blossoms too …
Everything Good is Bad is so different again. A bluesy, slightly raunchy delivery makes JJ’s voice two parts Joe Cocker/Tom Waits and one part Jackie Wilson-type sincerity. Pretty heady combination and he moves between them effortlessly and intuitively to polished perfection.
The Truth This is an achingly beautiful song and my all-time favourite track on the album. As someone who often scorns ballads, I never tire of listening and then re-listening to the opening stanza and being consistently impressed by the way in which JJ sings “wait for me.”
A big respect to my friend and colleague John for turning me on to JJ Grey and Mofro – truly they are firm favourites of mine now. I am seeking out earlier works as I write and I appreciate the heads-up very much. Cheers!