JJ Grey & Mofro
The Windjammer
July 16

As most Mofro fans know, JJ Grey loves to preach. Never one for shyness or failing to speak his mind, he struts around the stage telling stories and ingratiating himself with the crowd, especially the female contingent.

Since last year’s local show, Grey seems to have increased his preaching, pausing after nearly every song for another story or anecdote about women, Charleston, his hometown of Jacksonville, or the blessings of classic Southern food (followed, as usual, by a tasty rendition of “Ho Cake”).

By the time I got through the line at the door, Grey and crew had fired up the already sweltering venue with a bright version of “Fireflies,” heavy on audience participation and the crowd-shouted chorus. “Walking on Air” picked up the pace a bit, building a horn-saturated crescendo from Grey’s straightforward but nimble guitar solo. “Country Ghetto” featured the first taste of Grey’s smoky harmonica licks. It’s an instrument that suits his personality and stage presence perfectly, and he rarely disappoints, offering deeply soulful accompaniment to his uncontrived vocals and sweaty, funky music.

The dirty funk only increased with one of my personal favorites, “Dirtfloorcracka,” during which an orange Dirtfloorcracka hat seemed to materialize from nowhere near the front of the crowd. Then we finally got a peek at the upcoming album, Georgia Warhorse, with a new tune called “The Sweetest Thing.” Very much in the classic soul vein, it projects a gospel-like fervor and old-school energy that should please fans, and it makes full use of the solid trumpet-and-sax horn section. (Trumpeter Dennis Marion and saxophonist Art Edmaiston were probably the MVPs of the night.)

“Orange Blossoms,” the title track from the band’s most recent album, proved to be one of the highlights. As was the case for most of the show, Grey deferred to the audience for many of his well-known choruses, a move that always wins fans, especially drunk ones, but eventually becomes somewhat heavy-handed. However, the tactic served him well during the encore, which paired the cathartic “The Sun is Shining Down” with one of the staples of the blues tradition, “Hoochie Coochie Man.”

Though the music seemed looser than usual, it jived well with the prevailing mood, and the energy and soul of Mofro is undiminished. However, Grey may consider toning down the sermonizing a bit. He’s charming, to be sure — and the man can spin a yarn — but he’s nearing the point where the music is in danger of being overshadowed by the showmanship, which would be a shame for a band that has had very few missteps in four albums and hundreds of live shows.

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