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Benton Evening News - Benton, IL
  • Music Scene: J.J. Grey releases 'Brighter Days'

  • J.J. Grey wanted to do something decidedly different when he finally acceded to multiple requests for a live album.

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  • J.J. Grey wanted to do something decidedly different when he finally acceded to multiple requests for a live album.
    “Brighter Days” is the result and it’s an 80-minute CD package that comes with a two-hour DVD documentary. The DVD includes all of the concert from the CD, with three more songs, and of Grey in his beloved Florida home area, talking about what it means to him.
    But he also has other ties, including to Boston in the form of the filmmaker, Spookie Daly, perhaps better known as the leader of the funk band Spookie Daly Pride. Daly and his band met Grey and his group when both were playing at the same club in Utah. Over the years they became close friends, perhaps united by their shared tendency to remake funk and rock ’n’ roll in their own individual style.
    “It was just an actual progression, how Spookie became our film guy,” said Grey from a Milwaukee tour stop. “We had become good friends and he got a camera and started shooting some stuff of us. He did a video for us, just fooling around really. But it was good, so we had him do a video for our (2008) song ‘Orange Blossom.’ That came out so well, we had him do videos for ‘On Fire’ and ‘Sweetest Thing’ too.
    “Spookie had this idea of doing a documentary about me, showing my connection to the land where I come from (the area around Jacksonville),” Grey said. “When we got to the point where we wanted to film a show, Spookie and I decided to try and put it all together with the documentary. It just sort of happened.”
    Grey’s label, Chicago’s premier blues imprint, Alligator Records, was expecting just the DVD initially. And video-philes will love the movie, with its superb cinematography, and the big wide stage at the Atlanta venue affording terrific views of the whole band, as Grey strides the front of the stage.
    “People had always said I should do a live album,” Grey said. “They were saying that after my first album (2001’s “Blackwater”). I felt like I’d rather do a few studio albums first, but it finally happened that the time was right. We decided to do it as just a DVD concert film, then with the documentary woven in. But that show (Jan. 22, 2011 at Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse) came out sounding so well, we decided to try and make a record out of it too.”
    The setlist for the concert included material from throughout Grey’s career, as the title cut in fact is from that 2001 debut album. But the two-hours-plus DVD format meant that some songs had to be cut from the 80-minute CD.
    “We had done just a typical setlist,” said Grey. “The whole idea had been to do a DVD, but when we heard how great it sounded, and how great the audience sounded, we went ahead and made a CD.”
    Page 2 of 3 - There are some gorgeous shots of Grey’s swampy homeland, as he tries to discuss how he became the artist he is. There’s almost a comical quality to hearing people try to describe his singular mix of soul, grit and funk, and guitarist Andrew Trube is especially tongue-tied.
    There are some other thoughtful segments too, as when Alligator owner Bruce Iglauer admits that Grey doesn’t quite fit the blues category, but his music is so all-encompassing of Southern roots that he loves hearing it and having him on the label. Iglauer also compares Grey’s spare but potent lyric style, and the portraits he draws of common people, to writer Carson McCullers.
    “If I didn’t have enough pressure on me before, now I do,” Grey said. “I admit that is not someone that I’m familiar with, but now I need to become familiar with Carson McCullers.”
    One fine example of the insight provided in the movie is concerning the song “The Sun Is Shining Down,” which Grey has been doing in concert for years. With its “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah” chorus, it’s a gospel-infused anthem of living in the moment and finding joy in your life, whatever the circumstance. But on the DVD, Grey reveals that the song emanated from the last conversation his grandparents ever had, as his grandma was driving her dying husband to the hospital.
    “The crazy thing is that when that song wrote itself, which it did as I was coming back from a show in south Florida, and riding in the RV – it just came all at once, I had no idea what it was about,” Grey explained. “Later on, it dawned on me where I had gotten those lines. That’s a common theme in my writing, all these little things in your life show up sooner or later.”
    Usually touring about eight months a year, Grey sets aside the other four months to spend time at home with his family and also write new material. A dedicated studio rat, he likes to squirrel himself away and craft his new music by playing all the instruments himself, until he has a finished product he can present to his backing sextet.
    “I just like to get in here and mess with things,” said Grey. “Eventually I’ll get all the guys involved, but at the beginning I like to lock the door and mess around by myself and see what happens. But from this live CD, I have definitely decided I want to record my next studio album as close to live as we can. I have some stuff tucked away on my iPod, some more on my iPhone, and more in my computer. I was kind of shocked to see that I have 35 songs, but they’re not all keepers.”
    Page 3 of 3 - Grey’s band Mofro includes Trube on guitar, Anthony Farrell on keyboards, Art Edmaiston on sax, Dennis Marion on trumpet, Anthony Cole on drums, and Todd Smallie on bass. Former band member Daryl Hance has been opening the Midwest part of this tour.
    The Patriot Ledger

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