Converted from paper version of the Broad Ripple Gazette (v04n07)
Rick On The Records - by Rick Zeigler
posted: Apr. 06, 2007
J.J. GREY & MOFRO-Country Ghetto
Country Ghetto is the first album for J.J. Grey & Mofro (formerly just Mofro) on Alligator Records, home to Southern blues artists too numerous to list. It is a very appropriate home for the mixture of swamp-rock and southern soul served up here. J.J. Grey is no stranger to this territory, having grown up in the swamplands of northern Florida. He says this album is full of "front porch realism". It is also full of rough funk, juke-joint romps, gospel blues, and what the band calls 'swamp rock for a new age". One might also call their sound a "modern Muscle Shoals," referring to the studio that spawned some of the best work of the Allmans, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and a host of Stax-influencd artists of the seventies. With a fine bluesy voice and just the right amount of grit, Grey sings songs about everyday hardships, whether centered on political, racial, or romantic travails. Kicking things off with a chunky guitar riff and a simple drum beat, "War" tackles its subject with music smothered in funky organ and horn lines, and with some great female gospel vocals as backing. "Circles" slows things down with bluesy string and horn stylings. The title track is a Booker-T style funky blues driven by Grey's wailing harmonica, in which he lays down lyrics exploring life as he knows it versus how that life is portrayed. As he spits out, "Love touches us all/Yes we're black and we're white/Out here in the cut/Still living side by side/So never mind what you seen/And just forget what you heard/Another ignorant redneck/Just some Hollywood words," you can feel the venom and sarcasm dripping from his lips. Unlike so many modern vocalists, Grey's words carry little trace of irony. You can tell the words are felt rather than just sung. The album continues in this vein, alternately serving up horn-driven anthems, laid-back country blues, or soulful gospel singalongs (made explicit in the penultimate track "The Sun Is Shining Down," with its chorus of "Glory, Glory, Hallelujah"). Whatever the approach, the band comes up aces, and this is one of the finest blues-infused releases you're likely to hear this year. .
NOTE: J.J. Grey and Mofro will be appearing live at the Vogue Theatre on Tuesday, April 14th, 2007. Prior to their show, they will also be performing a free, all ages acoustic set at 5 PM at Indy CD and Vinyl.
AMY WINEHOUSE-Back to Black
Amy Winehouse is a certified star in Britain, selling out concert halls and racking up triple-platinum sales and a British Female Solo Artist award for her second album (first to be released stateside), Back To Black. While her first album, Frank, was suffused with stylish jazz, Back To Black puts its musical focus on fifties and sixties pop sounds, with early Motown, Aretha Franklin, the girl-groups (Ronettes, Crystals, etc.) of Phil Spector, and doo-wop taking center stage. However, the distinguishing characteristic of Winehouse is her lyrics. While discussing personal troubles, she is sexually frank (something of a "pottymouth," actually) but not childish. She refuses to shift the blame for her troubles onto others, always focusing on her own complicity in her travails. And while she may regret decisions she has made, she also has a refreshing lack of shame about those decisions. Recounting the concerns of her family over her drinking, the first lines on opener "Rehab" are "They tried to make me go to rehab, but I said No, No, No". And the words are delivered with such authority that you're immediately on her side. Most of her material focuses on relationship problems, such as when she asks herself "What kind of f***ery is this," in "Me & Mr. Jones," or castigates herself by saying "I shouldn't play myself again/I should just be my own best friend/Not f*** myself in the head with stupid men," on "Tears Dry On Their Own". Wise both musically and lyrically beyond her 22 years, Winehouse has fashioned an irresistible blend of old-style soul-pop of the highest order with lyrics that are firmly rooted in the present. Whether that's enough to bring her stateside success (where radio support will largely be absent due to the language) will be interesting to watch. Whatever the answer, do yourself a favor and check her out.
Rick Zeigler, along with his wife, Jeanne, owns Indy CD and Vinyl at 806 Broad Ripple Avenue. Back in his musician days, his band opened for the likes of U2, XTC, Gang Of Four, The Pretenders, Los Lobos, and, um, Flock Of Seagulls, among others. You can read all of Rick's reviews at www.indycdandvinyl.com. Email your music questions and comments to rick@BroadRippleGazette.com