JJ Grey is clearly a man who likes to take his time. Whether it’s the way he’s built his career or the pacing of tonight’s set, his unhurried style focuses on making a meaningful connection with either a song or his audience
He’s a white boy soul singer who loves to build a song step by step before hitting an emotional charge on a booming hook.
The deeply soulful phrasing and occasional vibrato of tonight’s guest Marc Broussard gets the evening off to a mellow start. He’s a talented singer-songwriter with a good range and he’s unexpectedly joined by Mofro in the second part of his set, which includes Al Green’s ‘Love & Happiness’ and his own ‘Lonely Night In Georgia’.
If Broussard is all about soulful nuances, then JJ is a singer who pushes himself to the limit, in sharp contrast to his placid in-between songs demeanour. He sings from the heart, has real presence, sometimes evokes Southside Johnny and always encourages the crowd to join him in some gospel style fervour.
He’s backed by his stellar band Mofro who truly know the meaning of soul and the importance of feel. The rhythm section grooves and pushes and pulls the songs imperceptibly forwards, while the keyboard player compliments the horns perfectly, as they fatten the sound here, provide accents there and occasionally solo.
The whole band is the joyous sum of its parts, and gives JJ the musical canvas he needs to soar, holler, gutturally enunciate and colour a series of smouldering, enveloping soulful grooves that bite you in the ass when you least expect it.
No surprise then that he opens with a laid back salacious slow blues, before slipping into ‘Everything is a Song’. It’s one of his optimistic narrative driven pieces on which he radiates positivity.
On the swampy ‘99 Shades of Crazy’, Mofro hit the kind of groove that once drew clubbers to bands like Primal Scream, while the horns take us all the way down to Muscle Shoals
‘Brighter Days’ provides another rousing sing-along as the horns rise majestically and JJ raps Otis Redding style on an uplifting gospel finish. He lights the blue touch paper with ‘Country Ghetto’, as his southern gospel imagery connects with the crowd, who in turn echo the ‘ghetto’ part of the chorus.
The set surprisingly dips a little with perhaps one mid-tempo song too many, including ‘Home In The Sky’, which is a slow building melody that doesn’t quite catch fire. The pulverizing ‘A Night To Remember’ redresses the balance, as the band stretches out and swings with abandon ,as JJ contents himself to extend his arms and draw us all in.
And as the show works its way to the ‘Ol Glory’ finale, the thematic tree on the gigantic thematic backdrop suddenly makes sense. Just like JJ’s soulful approach, tonight’s musical message is all about sparking a vibe and making the kind of connection that brings beaming smiles to so many faces.
Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos by Kieran White
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