“This one is his best yet,” I thought when I first listened to “This River,” J.J. Grey’s latest album. “No way,” my wife opined. “Orange Blossoms.”
Like most fans of J.J. Grey and Mofro, we have all seven studio albums. A testament of a great band is how each record is different and its listeners have different favorites.
There are many constants with the Southern soul and R&B records, which have all been made with producer Dan Prothro.
Grey discussed at length his record-making throughout the years.
“The only thing that’s changed is after every take I would look in the window in the control room and say, ‘Is that OK?’ Now I know when it’s OK. I don’t look at him. It’s ‘Yeah, that’s it, dude. That one’s done.’
“I record them in the same studio on the same gear and I write songs the same way. I feel it hasn’t changed that much since (2001’s) “Blackwater,” but I’ve changed a lot. My approach hasn’t changed.
“The music changed because life changes and it’s subtle.To somebody from the outside, they’ll hear a vast differences. I feel I can sing a billion times better now and I like the tone of my voice now then when I was younger but I think that’s just from doing 150-plus shows a year every year for 13 years straight. It wears your voice in a little bit better.
“The irony of things is mind-blowing. I’ve had friends say, ‘I really like the rawness of “Blackwater” and “Lochloosa.” I dig the new stuff, too, but the old stuff has a raw feel.’ And “Blackwater” was the most produced album out of all of them! The newer stuff is a band playing in a studio. The first album is a bunch of multi-track shit that Dan added to and made into a record, and I didn’t know how he was going to do it. He left with the masters and I didn’t think I was ever going to hear from him again because I just didn’t think we had a record down.
“Everybody played great on it but I wasn’t prepared like I could have been and should have been going into the studio. I had plenty of material. I just didn’t give plenty of direction.
“My direction then was, ‘I don’t know what I want, but I know I don’t want that.’ That’s not good direction for a producer or anybody. Anyway, the way I wrote and recorded demos and did all that stuff at home and got it all together for a band to learn and then play it in the studio. None of that has changed.”
That’s another great thing about Grey. Ask him a question, and he will write the entire story with his answer.
Grey’s studio and touring bands are the same, a collection of all-star musicians who are band leaders when they aren’t working with Grey.
So what does Grey think about “This River”?
“I really like this one,” he said. “I think it’s the most focused. All the cats playing on it are great.”
- J.J. Grey & Mofro
- Album: “This River”
2013: “This River”
2011: “Brighter Days”
2010: “Georgia Warhorse”
2008: “Orange Blossoms”
2007: “Country Ghetto”
Each available at Alligator Records. “Lochloosa” and “Blackwater” originally on Fog City, reissued by Alligator in 2007.