JJ Grey and the band offers up a dozen new tunes that demonstrate the growth of their music from “swamp pop blues” into something deeper and with more feeling. The blending of soul and funk into the country-styled blues of North Florida with more complexity and arranging has allowed Grey to become quite the band leader on top of being a great singer and songwriter. Ol’ Glory is his and the bands’ biggest and best work yet.
Grey’s web site lists his musical repertoire as: “Vocals, Guitar (PRS Guitars, Gibson SG, Gibson 337, and Gibson Southern Jumbo Acoustic, with vintage Fender Showman w/ Tone Tubby 2×12, Fender Super Reverb, and Fender Champ amps), Keyboards (Wurlitzer 200a, Nord Electro), Harmonica (Lee Oskar, Hohner).” Quite the musician, and if you’ve seen him live or are a fan you know what a great act this is. Along with the 48 year old Jacksonville, Florida resident on the record are Dennis Marion on trumpet, Anthony Farrell on organ, Andrew Trube on guitar, Todd Smallie on bass, AC Cole on drums, Art Edmaiston on sax. Luther Dickinson adds his dobro and Derek Trucks makes one guest appearance.
“Everything is a Song” opens the CD. A tune that sways and swings in a very R&B manner, the song showcases Grey’s vocal prowess and saxophonist Art Edmaiston’s special horn arrangements. The songs builds and fades a few time as Grey gives a very emotional performance. The song eventually builds to a frenzy and then fades out smoothly, a very cool opener that regales about life being a symphony of music to enjoy. “The Island” follows, a down tempo, acoustic cut where Grey lets it all hang out in a starkly haunting manner. He sings, “All beneath the canopy or ageless oaks whose secret keep forever in her beauty, this island is my home.” Poetic and deep, Grey presents a very cool cut with acoustic guitars layered over some steel guitar and harmonica providing that canopy for us. “Every Minute” starts out slowly and the instrumentation and backing vocals come in and the song builds into a huge, soulful testimonial by Grey who says he is, “Loving every minute of living.” Derek Trucks adds his special touch to this song. The next cut gets even more soulful as Grey delivers “A Night to Remember.” Taking an almost syncopated approach to the vocals, Grey sings of his upcoming rendezvous. There is a nice guitar solo and then the bass transitions back to Grey as he culminates his conquest.
In “Light a Candle” Grey gives another soulful performance as he asks his woman to light a candle for him as he’s on his way back home to her. The horn work is stalwart here as it is throughout. The blend of the horns, guitar and all the vocals is somewhat symphonic in nature. “Turn Loose” turns the sound into to a very syncopated funk and Grey and company deliver another winner. “Brave Lil’ Fighter” has sort of a retro sound and beat that hearkens to the 1970’s, blending soul and rock. He belts out the vocals as the band builds up the sound around him. The song takes a brief respite and then goes out in a long blaze of soul, rock and funk. The stratospheric trumpet work and the guitar groove are beautifully done here. “Home in the Sky” takes things down several notches with Grey offering up a very pretty ballad for the listeners.
Things then explode with “Hold on Tight.” There is a big intro with distorted guitar and horns that then transitions to a very interesting, soulful cut. Grey sings to his woman that, “He can’t wait for the kids to go to sleep,” and then the guitar returns for a huge solo. The vocals line comes back to earth again and Grey woos his woman some more. The guitar again returns to great effect and the song then fades; very interestingly done! “Tic Tac Toe” has a Southern, country blues feel to it. The song again starts a bit mellow and then things get interesting as the horns and vocals ebb and flow; Grey repeats the approach as he sings about how life can play games with us and we can also play games within it. The title track is next, a big number with Grey emoting heavily over a very funky beat and the band is in full support. The tune reminded me of something that would be a perfect James Brown tune. Grey is a wild man who delivers a fantastic performance here as do all his cohorts on the album. Big horns, big vocals, a big backline beat and a big guitar groove. Grey testifies his way through this and by the end of the song you believe! The album closes with “The Hurricane,” where Grey goes acoustic and delivers another great ballad. Thoughtful and sublimely done, Grey is masterful in all ends of the spectrum of pacing, tone and timber to his vocals. This is some great stuff and if you register with JJ Grey on line you can download a free 13th cut, “Day Three Jam.”
This album really sets the bar high for JJ. He relaxes by tending to his nut trees on his old family farm where he also has a recording studio. The music comes from and is recorded right in the swamps and marshes of North Florida. One can feel the dampness and heat that emanates from this music and the sounds of the band. For those not familiar with this, let me describe it for you; I spent 7 years living around the marshes of southeast Georgia, right across the river from Florida. As with other hot places, the heat ripples up from the ground, distorting your vision as you gaze off towards the horizon. There are lots of rivers and marshy areas that evaporate in the heat, and those waters hang around you like wet, personal wall paper. It does not allow you to move at your fastest paste; life slows down this stagnant volume of evaporated water surrounds you and will not leave you. There are smells of a little mold and rotting vegetation that are always present; not bad, not good, but just there. There may also be some good spicy smells from a nearby house boiling up some shrimp or blackening some wonderful fresh fish or from the smell of sweat from a lover or close friend that fills your nostrils as the heat par boils both of you. Music is still played on some of the front porches and in town squares, where you become part of the country and the country becomes part of you. There are the blues that remind us of days past and the hopes for a future of plenty and health; the love of life that we are blessed with: families, friends and loves. That is the world of JJ Grey and that is his music. Buy this record and you, too, can become part of all of this.