By: Andrew Bruss
JJ Grey & MOFRO have been gradually making a name for themselves since the early side of this decade, and following this summer's release of their fourth studio album, Orange Blossoms, it looks like things are going to keep getting bigger and bigger for the front porch soul man from Jacksonville, Florida. The 2007 release of Country Ghetto saw JJ Grey's music break out into a larger audience with the help of quality promotion and a good deal of radio play. But with Orange Blossoms, it's starting to seem as though Grey and his MOFRO cohorts are finally being seen and heard with the crossover appeal they've held from the start.
Compared to Blackwater, MOFRO's 2001 studio debut, Orange Blossoms has a much more refined sound that gets closer to the point and distills the essence in a quicker manner. However, when JamBase spoke with Grey about the album, he didn't exactly agree with the "refined" idea.
"Contrary to some of the opinions so far - mind you, nobody said this in a bad way - but people feel like this album is really well produced, but it's definitely the least produced of any of the records we've done. I spent a little more time at home recording this record. We went into my house, and it really made itself. It came together real easy. There wasn't a whole lot of post-production or anything. It just came together," says Grey. "I tell people who say Blackwater is raw and the least produced, 'Bullshit.' It's the other way around. Blackwater is the most produced of any of them. But, it's gotten easier each record since. I've relaxed more in the studio and don't put all the pressure on the producer to make studio magic happen. This was the least studio magic record yet. This was the most straight performance record of all of them."
"I think one of the things is that the parts fit together a little better. I'm still playing the same guitar amps and the same gear as the first record - same microphones, same records. The only thing that's added to this equation that's different, the only outside element brought in really, is that I played reverb," continues Grey. "This album was recorded and mixed at the same studio that we recorded all my other albums at, and we got to use this old reverb and it gives it a little more rich, early '70s Nashville, Muscle Shoals sound. Other than that, I worked a little more early so the arrangements fit together and that's about it. Other than that, I didn't try to make this record any different than any others in the past. I don't like to try to do anything. You just do it, and if it works, it works. And if it don't, go do something else and come back and hit it later and see what happens."
Anyone whose ever spun a MOFRO album (or listened to the stream on the left), or casually walked past a stage Grey was performing on at a music festival probably picked up on the Southern soul he emits in every note. Grey currently lives in the region he was raised in, and his roots are something that can be heard in all of his music.
"Each one of those [new] songs is about stuff I've seen growing up where I live. People might think, 'He's not singing about Florida.' Bullshit," observes Grey succinctly. "Every song is about where I grew up and the things I see. I don't have to call out different names every time. It's all about where I'm from."
Grey has always had a powerful voice that radiates throughout any room, but over the years he has gradually developed as both a songwriter and a performer. As far as his showmanship goes, Grey feels his evolution is just as significant as that of his musicianship.
"That's the biggest evolution for anyone in this biz. You play 100 shows a year, I don't care who you are, and it will make you a better performer. I was telling a friend of mine who's a great musician and singer but hasn't been on the road yet [that]. He's trying to look for his voice and I told him, in my opinion, you don't find your voice until you lose it. Once you go on the road, you get beat down and eventually loose your voice for some reason," says Grey. "I lost my voice and it had nothing to do with the road. I got pneumonia, and I still went out and sang and almost did irreparable damage to myself. It's at that point you wake up from it and find your voice. Then, when you get well, you can expand upon it. When I really got torn down is when I really found out who I was and what I was made of."
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