JJ Grey & Mofro + Hollis Brown$28.50 - $42.50 Buy Tickets
From the days of playing greasy local juke joints to headlining major festivals, JJ Grey remains an unfettered, blissful performer, singing with a blue-collared spirit over the bone-deep grooves of his compositions. His presence before an audience is something startling and immediate, at times a funk rave-up, other times a sort of mass-absolution for the mortal weaknesses that make him and his audience human. When you see JJ Grey and his band Mofro live—and you truly, absolutely must—the man is fearless.
Onstage, Grey delivers his songs with compassion and a relentless honesty, but perhaps not until Ol’ Glory has a studio record captured the fierceness and intimacy that defines a Grey live performance. “I wanted that crucial lived-in feel,” Grey says of Ol’ Glory, and here he hits his mark. On the new album, Grey and his current Mofro lineup offer grace and groove in equal measure, with an easygoing quality to the production that makes those beautiful muscular drum-breaks sound as though the band has set up in your living room.
Despite a redoubtable stage presence, Grey does get performance anxiety—specifically, when he’s suspended 50 feet above the soil of his pecan grove, clearing moss from the upper trees.
“The tops of the trees are even worse,” he laughs, “say closer to 70, maybe even 80 feet. I’m not phobic about heights, but I don’t think anyone’s crazy about getting up in a bucket and swinging all around. I wanted to fertilize this year but didn’t get a chance. This February I will, about two tons—to feed the trees.”
When he isn’t touring, Grey exerts his prodigious energies on the family land, a former chicken-farm that was run by his maternal grandmother and grandfather. The farm boasts a recording studio, a warehouse that doubles as Grey’s gym, an open-air barn, and of course those 50-odd pecan trees that occasionally require Grey to go airborne with his sprayer.
For devoted listeners, there is something fitting, even affirmative in Grey’s commitment to the land of his north Florida home. The farms and eddying swamps of his youth are as much a part of Grey’s music as the Louisiana swamp-blues tradition, or the singer’s collection of old Stax records.
As a boy, Grey was drawn to country-rockers, including Jerry Reed, and to Otis Redding and the other luminaries of Memphis soul; Run-D.M.C., meanwhile, played on repeat in the parking lot of his high school (note the hip-hop inflections on “A Night to Remember”). Merging these traditions, and working with a blue-collar ethic that brooked no bullshit, Grey began touring as Mofro in the late ’90s, with backbeats that crossed Steve Cropper with George Clinton and a lyrical directness that made his debut LP Blackwater (2001) a calling-card among roots-rock aficionados. Soon, he was expanding his tours beyond America and the U.K., playing ever-larger clubs and eventually massive festivals, as his fan base grew from a modest group of loyal initiates into something resembling a national coalition.
Hollis Brown is an American Rock ‘n’ Roll band. Named after a Bob Dylan song (“The Ballad of Hollis Brown”), the band was formed by Queens-natives and songwriters Mike Montali (lead vocals/guitar) and Jonathan Bonilla (lead guitar). Both 2nd-generation immigrants (Italian- American and Puerto Rican-American, respectively), they soon found their musical brethren across America, recruiting Andrew Zehnal (drums) from Cleveland, Adam Bock (keyboard/vocals) from St. Louis and Scott Thompson (bass) from Boston.
Hollis Brown’s latest vinyl EP, Cluster of Pearls (Alive Naturalsound Records), was chosen as one of the 300 select releases throughout the world for Record Store Day 2016. Pressed on Starburst Vinyl, the record is limited to 800 copies and features four previously unreleased tracks and two songs released on vinyl for the first time. Cluster of Pearls follows up the 2015 release of Hollis Brown’s third album 3 Shots (Jullian Records/RED), featuring the Bo Diddley collaboration “Rain Dance,” and the duet “Highway 1” with acclaimed alt-country songstress Nikki Lane. The edgy, roots-rock indie band from Queens, New York, known for its adrenaline fueled performances, recently wrapped 40+ amphitheater shows across America supporting Counting Crows and Citizen Cope last summer and fall, followed by a month-long headline tour in the UK and Europe.