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DVD REVIEW -- JJ Grey & Mofro

JJ Grey & Mofro

Brighter Days

DVD-CD

Alligator Records

JJ Grey DVD, Brighter Days

By Mark Baier

Those familiar with JJ Grey and Mofro know well how their live performances are a joyous celebration of life, culture and north Florida soul. With the release of Brighter Days, Grey and Co. have brought the intimacy and energy of a live concert right to your living room. The deluxe high quality DVD and CD package documents a Jan 2011 theatre show in Atlanta and brilliantly showcases Grey and Mofro’s prodigious talent.

 

The two-hour DVD kicks off with gorgeous scenes from Grey’s world: mangrove swamps, Gulf coast waters beating rhythmically against the shore, humble people living real lives. To be sure, Brighter Days is more than a simple concert film, it’s a thoughtful and in-depth look at Grey as an artist and a man. While the focus of the film is the live performance and the connection Grey and Mofro share with the audience, there is a deeper subtext, which is the story of Grey’s inspiration and his bond with the beloved North Florida clay he calls home. As Grey relates: “I was born right here in north Florida where the swamp meets the ocean meets the country. I love where I live and I love the people I grew up around..I want to tell the story about these people I grew up around”. Grey’s ability to transform these simple human stories into compelling art is a rare talent, and Grey has few peers.

 

Beautifully filmed and directed by Spookie Daly, Brighter Days is visually stunning, featuring adept editing of the multiple cameras used in filming; the experience is actually better than sitting in the front row, with the viewer sharing backstage and onstage moments like they were part of the band. The quality and seamlessness of the presentation is reminiscent of the best concert documentaries. Grey is served beautifully by the recollections of such luminaries as Derek Trucks and Alligator label head Bruce Iglauer, with interviews that allow us an insider’s view of Grey’s creative process.

 

Kicking off with the song “War,” Grey and Mofro run through a set list that spans Grey’s career. Mofro, once an austre unit steeped in the rhythms and moods of the swamp, has evolved over time into a full-fledged soul band, complete with a horn section and Hammond B3. The weight of this instrumentation might overwhelm a lesser artist, but Grey is able to channel them into the same deeply rooted essence that he breathes into his singing and songwriting. (Band members are: Anthony Cole-drums, Art Edmaiston-sax, Anthony Farrell-organ & piano, Dennis Marion-trumpet, Todd Smallie-bass, Andrew Trube-guitar). The pacing of the selections and set list flow like gulf coast waves moving hypnotically on the swamp. Tight rockers like “War” and “Hide and Seek” are interleaved between the sultry and swampy like “A Woman” and “Air”. It’s worth mentioning that the track listing is different from CD to DVD, although each is culled from the same performance; the DVD features an expanded selection of three extra songs.

 

It cannot be overemphasized just how high quality the visual and audio experience on “Brighter Days” is. The 5.1 surround sound recording and hi def video will delight all who experience it.

 

Alligator Records has produced the most extensive catalog of Blues in modern history, and its imprimatur is a guarantee of an authentic musical experience. JJ Grey may not be traditional “blues”, but his music is steeped in the story, traditions and rhythms that personify the genre. Bruce Iglauer’s respect and love for JJ Grey’s music and talents are mightily evident here, making “Brighter Days” a 5-Star selection for your holiday gift list.

 

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