LIVE REVIEW + PHOTOS: JJ Grey & Mofro, Judith Hill in Boston, MA (04.05.24)

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LIVE REVIEW + PHOTOS: JJ Grey & Mofro, Judith Hill in Boston, MA (04.05.24)

The night crackled with energy as JJ Grey & Mofro was about to take the stage, promising a journey through the heart of Southern soul and blues. This is a show I was looking forward to wholeheartedly, as I consider him to be one of the finest and most passionate singers of our time. Since seeing him perform for the first time back in 2007, I knew this was a performer to keep tabs on. Bursting with the soulful nature and unbridled energy of the late great Joe Cocker, he’s a man who captures your attention wearing his heart on his sleeve while you are pulled in to his colorful stories of life in the “Floribama” south. John Higginbotham, aka “JJ Grey” has been on the touring circuit in the mid 90’s onward, releasing his first album “Blackwater” under the moniker “Mofro” in 2001. That was a term he himself had coined when asked to explain the sound his band made. He didn’t start using the “JJ Grey & Mofro” name until his 2007 album “Country Ghetto” – which had attracted my attention at the time through a small review article found in Rolling Stone Magazine (back when reviews sounded honest and at a time when the albums featured weren’t mostly of a pop nature). I’ve always made it a point to see his band anytime they’ve come through the New England area, and this time certainly didn’t disappoint.

As NPR pretty accurately describes them, their blend of “southern-fried rock and swamp funk” – JJ Grey & Mofro are on this tour now to promote their new album “Olustee” (which fans have been waiting for since their last album came out in 2015) which sports a Rooster on the cover and is plush with a good mix of funky get-down music and emotional ballads. He even released his own bourbon whiskey sporting the same rooster to go along with it (which can be obtained currently only through his website and distilled in Augustine, FL). Supporting his band was Judith Hill, an American singer-songwriter from LA. To date, she has been known mostly for providing backup singing duties for the likes of Michael Jackson, Prince, and Josh Groban. A pre-show perusal of some of her Youtube videos and I was pretty impressed and very interested to see her perform. She was also noteably featured in a documentary called “20 feet from Stardom”, all about the untold story of the backup singers behind some of the “greatest musical legends of the 21st century”. For this involvement, she also won a Grammy for Best Music Film for her performance in it.

Entering the venue, I was greeted with the bluesy neo-soul chords of a confident guitarist. Dressed in a shimmery shredded leather top and sporting a sharp looking black Gibson, I could tell this was going to be an entertaining set. I must admit I didn’t know much of her music, but as the crowd danced and swayed along, I definitely became an instant fan. Between songs, Hill mentioned that her band was literally made up of her family, which I thought was cool. Her mother played the keys, her father was on bass, and her brother was behind the drum kit. Clearly she grew up in a very musical family and this made evident that her passion for music was fostered from a very young age. Her set was full of blistering solos, heartfelt songs, and a voice with a fire to it that beckoned that her music be listened to further after the show was over. Highly recommend a deep dive into her work.

From the very first notes of “Olustee,” the crowd at The House of Blues in Boston, MA was captivated by the band’s raw passion and tight musicianship. This was clearly a full house of his fans. JJ’s unmistakable bluesy harmonica wailed during this track, setting the tone for the rest of the night’s show. “WYLF” followed, its upbeat groove getting everyone on their feet and moving to the rhythm. JJ Grey’s gravelly vocals soared, painting vivid pictures of life in the South. “Rooster” kept the momentum going, with its funky infectious melody and comical lyrics, “I’m a rooster (rooster), still a man, guess you’ll have to change them plans – I’m a rooster (rooster), just so you know, I decide which way I go”.

As the set progressed, highlights included the anthemic “Brave Lil’ Fighter” and the uplifting “Top of the World,” which had the audience singing along and bobbing their heads to his driving, fun song only enhanced with his searing vocals. “The Sea” slowed things down a bit and offered a moment of introspection, with its haunting melody and poignant lyrics.

“99 Shades of Crazy”, a fan favorite, showcased a memorable chorus – with JJ supplying a story I had actually never heard before. As he told the crowd, when he used to work at a construction company, he used to see a down and out kinda guy who used to sit on a bench near his work site, and would have conversations with himself, shouting and cussing to no one – a song which as he says, basically wrote itself. Sometimes, you have to love those stories about how songs were written and came about. “Deeper Than Belief” delved into deeper emotional territory, showcasing Grey’s versatility as a songwriter and performer. All the while, as he appeared to be having a good time on stage with his glass of (what I presume) his own whiskey, it was clear there was some great comradery between band members and bringing a party kind of mood to the House of Blues crowd. “Orange Blossoms” added a touch of Southern rock flair, with its driving rhythm, blistering guitar solos, and clearly another crowd favorite to sing along to. It’s certainly always been an ear worm for me.

But it was during “Lochloosa” that the band truly hit their stride, delivering a performance that was both soulful and electrifying. The crowd swayed and danced as Grey poured his heart and soul into every word, exuding plenty of heart and soul through his harmonica, as the beams of light onstage all shined down, bringing his playing to the forefront of the stage; creating a sense that he was the only one on stage, which further pushed the storyline of the song about finding your happy place – that space we must all find to get away from it all to think and take a breath from all of our “realities”. I, myself have visited Lake Lochloosa in Florida and it is indeed, a peaceful, swamp laden retreat (which was also become a sort of mecca for a good amount of his fanbase).

A cover of John Anderson’s “Seminole Wind” delighted fans, showcasing the band’s reverence for their musical roots. “Lazy Fo Acre” kept the party going, with its infectious groove and loose energy. As the night drew to a close, “On Fire” and “The Sun is Shining Down” provided moments of reflection and celebration, with their uplifting melodies and heartfelt lyrics. This has become a staple setlist end for JJ, bringing emotional balladry to the thought that we should be thankful for every day that “I’m alive, and feelin… feelin fine”.

For the encore, JJ Grey & Mofro returned to the stage to perform “On A Breeze” and “Brighter Days,” leaving the crowd cheering for more. It was a night to remember, filled with soulful music and unforgettable moments. JJ Grey & Mofro proved once again why they are one of the most beloved bands in the Southern soul scene, leaving their fans eagerly anticipating their next performance. If you have a chance to catch him next time he comes to town, make sure not to miss it.

Photos – JJ Grey & Mofro, Judith Hill at House of Blues in Boston, MA on April 5th:

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