JJ Grey & Mofro “Olustee”

Alligator Records, 2024

JJ Grey keeps a steady hand on the tiller.

JJ Grey & Mofro - Olustee Alligator Records 2024After a nine-year hiatus, Florida native Grey returns with an album of heartfelt hymns and soulful expositions to life’s purest pleasures that’s as bright and breezy as a blue sky morning in the Sunshine State.

Being his 10th album, Grey has the confidence to open with the slow hymnal paean ‘The Sea’ rather than his trademark southern funk, which appears later in healthy helpings. Like a steady hand returning to the helm, there’s an assuredness within which the album steers us out on this quiet footing. It’s a beautiful opener, echoing the hymn-like nature of Van Morrison’s ‘Into the Mystic,’ or Jimmy Buffett’s most blissed-out serenades to ‘mother mother ocean.’

From here, the album sets into a steady rolling groove; departing the shallows of the harbour, navigating through deep blues and rolling currents of the stream. Next, ‘Top Of The World’ is a bright flag, a slice of southern soul inflected with Jesse Winchester rumba rhythms, it’s joyous. While ‘On The Breeze’ returns us to soft steady waters, a sweet paean to the healing effects of nature.

The album interpolates these moods of soft soulful reflections with rocking rolling rhythms. While Grey’s vocal is a malleable wonder, matching every genre hop in this rich southern stew of funk, rock, and blues. The title track, a remembrance of a wildfire in his home state, acts to ignite the music, a raucous, roiling workout of guitar, raw harmonica that leaves behind scorched earth.

A cover of John Anderson’s ‘Seminole Wind’ is faithful and piano-led with Warren Zevon inflections, digging at one of Grey’s personal concerns, the destruction of natural habitats. While ‘Wonderland’ has a jump-out-of-bed, Chuck Berry-esque energy, Grey exclaiming with urgency, “I feel like every day is the first day of my life.

There’s classicism to the music and haiku-like simplicity to the lyrics that puts nature and wonder at the heart of the human longing for grace. It’s good-time music, a gumbo for the soul. ‘Free High’ takes this to the heavens, Grey singing deep from within and stretching the notes with holy evocation. While ‘The Rooster,’ is funk blues, Grey becomes Lonnie Brooks, strutting and kicking up dust behind the chicken wire.

Olustee is a cure for what ails you. A potent potion. An elixir. It feels out of time or perhaps is entirely on time for a world in need of positive emotions. The material is primed for live performance, but at least begs you to roll the windows down, roll your sleeves up, to sit back and enjoy the sweet pleasures of the breeze.

8/10
8/10

About Tom Harding 14 Articles
A writer with a love of all things country, folk, jazz and blues. By night I'm a poet with two published poetry books from Palewell Press, latest available now, "Afternoon Music." www.tomharding.net
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