If the different styles of southern rock were represented by points on a triangle, JJ Grey and Mofro would be in the middle, not because of a regression to the musical mean, but because they execute something good and honest from each corner.
Frontman JJ Grey grew up in Jacksonville, and most of his songs are narratively framed in his experiences from Northern Florida. His songs have wide, relatable appeal and range in content from slow, bluesy ballads to energetic southern-style jams. Most surprisingly is Grey's ability to sing soulfully, overlaying songs with a vocal hybrid likeness to Bill Withers and Joe Cocker. The soul element is augmented by the backup horns of Art Edmaiston's saxophone and Denis Marion's trumpet. In many interviews, JJ Grey talks about how hard times have permeated his music, but Grey exuded a reciprocated positive energy on the stage, dancing and cheering on his band mates and the crowd. "Today's the greatest day of my life," Grey told the audience, "But every day is the greatest day of my life.Every night is Saturday night and every day is Sunday."The crowd responded in kind. The Civic Theater's space proved accommodating to live musical performances with open floor space for dancing and balcony seating for audience members who wanted to participate from a different angle.
Grey and his band have had success in the studio, producing six albums in more than a decade, but he has always considered their studio work secondary to their live performances.They conduct the tight, well-practiced arrangements of a talented group with a history together, but they were at their best Wednesday night when they left the chorus of the songs behind and explored the musical space with improvisational jamming, like they did for a ten minute extension of their popular blues-rock song, "Georgia Warhorse."Grey appealed to the Louisiana crowd with his catalogue of songs about the south, integrating wide genres of Americana folk, soul, blues, and rock. He also gifted the New Orleans audience by inviting local musicians to join the show.Ed Williams of the Revivalists soloed on his pedal steel guitar in a soulful jam of "Lochlusa."The show ended in high energy with a frenetic funky freestyle of "Ho Cake," featuring guests Papa Mali on guitar and bassist Robert Mercutio of Galactic.
Honey Island Swamp Band opened the show with great energy. They were an appropriate opener for JJ Grey, which represents the potential success and trajectory for our best local southern rockers like HISB. - Samuel Nelson
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