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|Nailing It: J.J. Grey & Mofro, November 25 at the Redstone Room|
|Music - Feature Stories|
|Written by Jeff Ignatius|
|Wednesday, 19 November 2008 02:15|
When J.J. Grey got off the road late last year, he immediately started preparations for what would become the Orange Blossoms record.
"I essentially recorded the album in November," he said last week.
Then he did it again in January.
And once more in February.
And then he went into the studio to finish the job with his band, Mofro.
The Florida-based J.J. Grey & Mofro will be performing at the Redstone Room next week, showing off the dirty Southern soul that Grey so labored over on Orange Blossoms.
It's Mofro's fourth record, brighter than its 2007 Alligator debut, Country Ghetto. "I wanted to keep things up," Grey said. That's evident on the title track, a sunny slice of Florida that kicks the record off. AllMusic.com characterized the album as "low-key yet surging backwoods R&B."
Like most albums made with such care, it is measured and sometimes over-deliberate. But it's also undeniable - in the strength of its songs and performances and in a stylistic circumference that makes it nearly universal. The stew also includes funk, Southern rock, and a little hip hop, with horns and jam-band digressions, and through it all is Grey's voice - which can run from a church-y growl to ballad-soft Anthony Keidis.
Grey said that the solitary process of recording Orange Blossoms was the idea of longtime Mofro producer Dan Prothero. "Dan ... has been wanting to do a record where he gets me to play everything," Grey said. "In his mind, there's something ... sort of quaint ... . There's something he liked about the demos."
He added: "Some things get lost in interpretation" from demo to finished recording. So Grey has upgraded the equipment in his home studio, so that demos can be used in a final recording.
Grey certainly gave it several shots, but he doesn't buy into the magic of initial recordings. "You fall in love with what you did on the demo," he said. "And [you think that] nothing's ever that good again, which is nonsense. You're just used to hearing it that way."
And Grey said that there was something tedious about doing it all himself. "After about the second or third round of recordings that I had done ... I was kind of tired of hearing myself play," he said.
So that's when he brought in his Mofro bandmates, and he said they had no trouble capturing the spirit of the demos. He knew what he wanted - "All the material was down pretty much to a science when we hit the studio" - and "they're all good enough that they can re-create some of that and bring more," Grey said. "The guys I get to play with, they can nail it."
Two songs - "On Fire" and "WYLF" - actually are largely the demo versions, and the latter is a song that Grey originally wrote nearly 15 years ago. He tried it in the studio when he and Mofro were recording their debut, 2001's Blackwater, but let it sit until he began work on Orange Blossoms.
"The original demo had a certain feel to the pocket, with the bass and the kick drum," he said. "I always felt like I love this tune, [but] I just felt we never could get a good take of it in the studio."
That search for perfection seems somewhat contrary to Grey's songwriting M.O. He said that he doesn't force his writing, and that he often doesn't know what a song is about when he writes it. "Dew Drops" is the story of a childhood friend who lost his mother and was abused by his father: "Mama ain't a day goes by I don't think about him / Well I can see his face still / Dull gray eyes burnt out to ash Lord to hell and gone again / I got to get away from him."
But it was only with distance that he recognized the narrator as a figure from his past instead of a product of his imagination.
It's an odd thing, in the sense that as much work as Grey put into recording Orange Blossoms, there's still room for discovery in the songs and the album. Even though it was released in August, "I'm still sort of learning the songs," he said.
J.J. Grey & Mofro will perform at the Redstone Room on Tuesday, November 25. Tickets are $15 in advance and $17 at the door. The show starts at 8 p.m., and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue opens. For tickets, visit RedstoneRoom.com.
For more information on J.J. Grey & Mofro, visit Mofro.net.
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