JJ Grey and Mofro – This River (2013)

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Combining the heartfelt dynamism of Otis Redding and the scuzzy grooves the Allman Brothers, JJ Grey and Mofro are reanimating a memorably greasy turn-of-the-1970s Deep South vibe for a new generation.

If anything, this sixth studio effort (due April 16, 2013 from Alligator Records) drills even deeper into their backwoods influences — taking its name from the St. John’s River, a defining element of JJ Grey’s childhood home in Jacksonville, Florida. The tracks were played live, with everyone in a a single room, and put to tape in nearby St. Augustine. What producer Dan Prothero captures is a band at the peak of its powers, fully in command of its towering influences, and ready to put its unique stamp on them.

For instance, “Somebody Else” has the bawdy horns (courtesy of Art Edmaiston and Dennis Marion), and the visceral pain, of every great Stax side but Grey’s approach is all his own — though it’s powered to these very different places by adding the junkie danger of Exile-era Stones, a throwback rockabilly guitar from Andrew Trube, and a rangy vocal from Grey that is by turns clinched and then howling in pain.

“The Ballad of Larry Webb” plugs into the sad stoicism that seemed to run just beneath the surface of Duane Allman’s best sides, while “Tame a Wild One” has a fizzy cadence from drummer Anthony Cole that likely brings a twinkle to the eye of any Booker T. and the MGs fan. Still, in both cases, Grey and Co. are too restless to settle for simple mimicry. They make these sounds their own through sheer emotional commitment.

“Standing on the Edge” rattles out like a rusted-through old Cadillac, before making a sharp left turn into this anthematic R&B shouter. “This River,” powered as it is by one of Grey’s most unguarded turns at the mic, underscores his lasting connection to Florida’s threatened environment. Even randy rockers like “Your Lady, She’s Shady” and “Florabama” turn on the kind of every-day moments (bad and good) that make up a life, giving them lasting resonance — that is, if you bother to stop shaking your ass long enough to listen.

And, hey, that’s perfectly fine, if you don’t. Therein lies the magic of Mofro’s layered triumph on This River. It only gets better, more engaging, more completely their own, through repeated listens.

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