Hey now, I almost forgot to write about this great show I saw last week. J.J. Grey is someone that I’ve been listening to since his great record Country Ghetto came out. I was a DJ at the time at my al matta’s radio station WKNH Keene State 91.3. Not sure if it still exists. I guess it was about 2005-2006. This record was such a gem, and he continued to churn out great southern swamp blues afterwards in the same approach. I heard he doesn’t like coming up north so this was a rare occasion to see him at an intimate outdoor venue in historic Lowell, MA.
The Lowell Summer Series is also a place that I hold in my heart and memories, as it was my first real job in the music biz working production for what was at the time a small easy-going summer music series. Its now a beautiful mid-sized summer concert venue equipped with big sound, a great and unique stage design and some very heady vendors that mostly give away their products as samples. In other words I think I had about 10 free bags of popcorn and an entire Flatbread pizza.
J.J.,and his 6 piece r&b soul band that suits his Florida swamp voice and sticky-licked guitar playing well, warmed up to some slow ballads. “A Woman” “Brighter Days,” and “Lochloosa” settled the crowd in slowly, but some encouraging stage banter gave the crowd a clue of what was yet to come. “The Sweetest Thing,” got their biggest push at a single out of the way for the newcomers, and “War” from Country Ghetto nearly brought the mostly beach-chaired concert goers to their feet. Then they tore a up a funky “Slow, Hot, and Sweaty” with trumpet, and sax break downs. “Orange Blossoms” was a classic-rock, CCR throw back stomper, and “Everything Good is Bad” got everyone moving and made me wanna smoke a cigarette.
They then came out and delivered a monster two song encore of “This River” and “Ho Cake”, that felt much longer and took the early curfew to the limit with extended jams and band introductions. It finally got all the entire crowd on their feet dancing, including local classic rock DJ Carter Allen (WZLX Block Party WEEEEKEEENDS —geographical radio reference—geek alert).
Overall, J.J. is next generation neo-soul-man. He’s been doing the whole soul-revival thing for years. I don’t think people like Sharon Jones and Gary Clarke Jr. would have sprouted up if there wasn’t some interest in what JJ was doing in the early 00’s. His funky riffs and smokey vocals take you on a geographical trek back in time to the roots of rhythm and blues, and he’s is clearly a man living by his own rules, not by mainstream success or notability. This just helps makes his shows an overall fun night from stage presence alone. On top of it all, his band, Mofro is damn tight, so I can only imagine that they’re probably this fun every night you could see them. Yeah, so if you ever get the chance, if these guys on a festival line up or casually on a schedule in your town, do yourself a favor and check them out.
Thanks to my buddy CJ RIZZO for the photos.