JJ Grey & Mofro: Higher Ground, South Burlington, VT 7/11/08

In turns insinuating, infectious and inspiring, the music of JJ Grey and Mofro connected so deeply with the hundred or so people in Higher Grounds Lounge, it’s doubtful the packed house in the larger ballroom (amassed from a line winding into the parking lot) contained more passion.

Over the last couple years, Mofro have morphed from a quirky neo-blues band into a bonafide soul review. With the horns and churchy organ, it would be easy to predict Grey and company would get a hearty response from an audience anxious for a good time on a Friday night. But without the bandleader’s commitment to the music and the fervor contained in songs like "Lochloosa," it’d all be for naught.

It was quite the contrary though, especially when you hear the spontaneous sing-along arising from the pre-mentioned song’s deeply Southern ambiance.  If you wonder how a select group of Vermonters would  respond, go no further than J.J.’s line about "one more developer" and know that healthy provincialism knows no state lines or geographical boundaries.

Truth be told though, Mofro exerted just the right push and pull throughout their single set. They might’ve taken the extended improv on the aforementioned cut a bit further, especially since Grey and band co-founder/guitarist Daryl Hance have the chemistry to extend themselves and still maintain the languorous swampy atmosphere. But the chunky rockers like "Ho Cake" were effectively wrought: no keyboard bass is fuller or deeper than Adam Scone’s and if more up-tempo tunes like "Mississippi" didn’t contain drummer AC Cole’s syncopation, they’d be less distinctive, no more than riff tunes.

Clearly, JJ Grey and Mofro have developed their own personality, yet their roots in R & B and Soul sound even more authentic with the presence of the two-man horn section. The trumpet of Dennis Marion cools the fire just enough when he solos while, in the same proportion, the sax of Art Edmaiston absolutely scorches. And the call and response between those two and Grey wailing on blues harp during the Bo Diddley-derived encore was not only ingeniously conceived but also executed with a playful spirit befitting a joyful close of the show.

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