Friday, July 10, 2015

DVD Review: JJ Grey and MOFRO – Better Days: The Live Concert Film

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

JJ Grey and MOFRO – Better Days: The Live Concert Film
Directed by Spookie Daly
Alligator Records / Thunderbolt Productions /
Madison House / Flying Pig Studio / MVD Visual

119 minutes, 2011 / 2013

Up North, JJ Grey and MOFRO are not as well-known as some of their other Southern brethren that walk the path of rock, blues and country. Part of this concert documentary is musicians, including members of the band, describing MOFRO’s sound and everyone has a different slant to it. So, what the hell, here is mine.

I definitely would not call it Southern Rock. I can see them as more Skynyrd than the Allmans, with some of Jim Dandy’s growling Blues and less tight pants, but not as much rock. Swamp rock is a good descriptor, but more if it had more classic R&B and Gospel. And for good measure, as one member of the band says, add a bit of “J[immy] Reed.”

The reason why all these are accurate, is because they refuse to stay on any one highway line, but move from lane to lane, keeping it interesting. For example, “DirtFloorCracker” is solid Southern Rock, even though, as I said, I would not classify them as such. Another, the title cut “Brighter Days” sounds to me like something out of the John Mellencamp – er – camp.

This documentary is a cross between a concert and talking heads. The live music part, which is a complete concert, was taped at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta, GA, on January 22, 2011. It’s not too far up the swamp from where JJ grew up near Jacksonville, F-L-A (same town as Tom Petty, who followed a very different musical path). You can hear it in JJ’s voice, as he says the lyrics with a deep drawl, “Ain’t but one thing dat’s foww showw / Ev’rybhudy wants sommoww.”

Before each song, there is an interview part, mostly with the tall, lanky and graying Grey, which beautifully sets up the meaning and tone for the song to come. All the music is shown completely, thankfully, though the one where he introduces the band seems to go on a bit.

The MOFRO’s behind JJ are phenomenal musicians, especially Dennis Marion’s trumpet and Andrew Trube’s lead guitar. The whole band gets more than one solo throughout, and each one shines without trying to top the rest. It isn’t a contest, it’s an expression of talent.

I wasn’t familiar with MOFRO’s output before, but I may keep my ears perked up if they come my way to play. The closest I knew was Bodeco (who I have seen live, and they killed), and the Formerly Brothers (Amos Garrett – Doug Sahm – Gene Taylor), which by coincidence was what I was listening to the day before playing this DVD, but it’s nice to add to the repertoire.

If I had any complaints about the documentary, they are small and petty. For example, I would have liked to have had the song titles come up as they started, and as with most of these kinds of films, the talking head interviews are identified once, and then you just have to remember who they are, which makes it harder if they are (a) less known and (b) there are many involved. As I said, petty.

If you are into this kind of sound, I recommend this highly. If you’re bored by Southern Rock as it stands and prefer a more raw sound that has a bit more country and R&B to it than the rock, check ‘em out. This film can easily hold you until then.

JJ Grey: vox / harmonica / rhythm guitar /tambourine
Andrew Trube: lead guitar
Anthony Cole: drums
Dennis Marion: trumpet
Art Edmaiston: sax
Anthony Farrell: keyboards
Todd Smallie: bass

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