215 North Lumpkin Street
Athens, GA 30606
7:00 p.m. Friday, Feb. 7, 2014
JJ Grey & Mofro,
Over the course of six albums and a decade of touring, JJ Grey's grimy blend of front porch soul and down-home storytelling has taken him around the world and back again. Beating the streets on nearly every continent, he and his band Mofro have sewn a continuous thread of laying-it-on-the-line shows that move folks to dance and at times to tears.
JJ was raised in North Florida by a typically Southern extended family that valued hard work and self-reliance. This upbringing permeates his no nonsense approach to writing and performing and has given him an abundance of material to write about in his songs.
“A friend of mine once said that we’re all characters if we're given enough room to be one. I guess I was lucky enough to be surrounded by people who had plenty of room cause Lord knows I know some larger-than-life ones. I’ve had a lot of laughs and good times with those characters. We’ve shared some hard times too.”
These characters and JJ’s own triumphs and struggles, make regular appearances throughout his lyrics. "Looking at his show now, it's remarkable to think how far he's come, and to realize the creative spirit and force of will it's taken to get there," says longtime producer and friend Dan Prothero. "But it's also remarkable to see him up there singing about the worst of it, and smiling a smile that has come from accepting the good with the bad. In recent years I think he's come to realize that the fighting stance that seemed to get him where he needed to go back then wasn't getting him where he needed to go now, and so he changed. Letting go and letting it all happen is at the heart of his creative process now.”
“The best songs I've ever wrote, I never wrote. They wrote themselves. The best show I ever played, played itself and had little to do with me or talent. To me those things come from the power of an honest moment and I guess I’m trying to live in that power and not force life to cough up what I want. That power is always there whether I’m aware of it or not. Force is the opposite. It requires effort and comes at a great cost. The cost has always been my freedom to truly enjoy what I’m doing while I’m doing it.”
April 2013 brings the release of JJ's sixth studio album, This River. Named for the St. John's River -- a centering point for his childhood near Jacksonville, Florida -- This River flows from freewheeling celebrations (“Florabama”) to dark inner journeys (“Somebody Else”), from late night, beer-soaked testimonials (“Your Lady”) to heartfelt ballads of the almost-forgotten (“The Ballad Of Larry Webb”), and ends with the title track and a singularly devastating vocal performance. With Dan Prothero at the helm as producer, JJ and the band once again returned to Retrophonics Studio in nearby St. Augustine, Florida and muscled out some of JJ’s strongest material to date.
"We set up much like we do for our shows, and cut the tracks as close to live as possible,” says Grey, “there’s something about everybody getting into one room and playing together. It brings some spark that can sometimes get lost in the shuffle of too much overdubbing."
JJ's band Mofro has also been a decade in the making. Over that time, great players have come and gone, but according to JJ, the present incarnation -- with Art Edmaiston on saxophone, Dennis Marion on Trumpet, Anthony Farrell on organ and piano, Todd Smallie on Bass, Anthony Cole on drums and Andrew Trube on guitar – is “the creme de la crème."
"These musicians I get to play with make it look easy. I've learned so much from them about music and about life in general. It ain't always easy to keep a core together when you do so many shows a year, year after year, but I truly hope to keep these guys together as long as possible.”
Many of Grey’s songs reflect his love for the North Florida wilderness in which he grew up. Having watched his native home be decimated by egregious development, and this has often figured heavily into his lyrics. He now works with groups such as The Snook & Gamefish Foundation and the St. Johns Riverkeepers, but still doesn’t consider himself an environmentalist.
“I guess I’ve never really believed that there is an environment that’s separate from me. I reckon that my connection to the environment, which I could call my home, is part of the connection to myself. I believe that whatever I do to my home and everything in it, I in-turn do to myself.”
From his early days playing cover music behind chicken wire at a Westside (Jacksonville) juke joint to playing sold-out shows and some of the largest music festivals in the world, it’s been a long road. But JJ has no illusions about where he’s headed or where he’s been. When prompted with questions about his past accomplishments or future plans, JJ lays down a little backwoods wisdom:
“I’m just a salmon swimming up stream. Going back home I reckon. I don’t know why and I quit caring why a long time ago. I guess there is no ‘why’ that my mind could understand anyway. All I do know is that I’ve enjoyed and I’m still enjoying every second of just being here and doing whatever it is I’m doing.” more >>> Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers made a needle’s-eye leap onto the national music circuit in 2012, bringing with them a refreshing sound, spirited stage show and wellspring of good vibes, along with a turntable and milk crates stocked with their favorite vintage vinyl for backstage sustenance.
Now, the San Francisco-based band and its striking front woman with a girl-next-door demeanor step out with Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers, a luminous, heartfelt patchwork of California folk-rock, brisk Americana and show-stopping soul, punctuated with fresh four-part harmonies, crisp rock guitar and Nicki’s soaring, nuanced vocals that some critics say remind them of Linda Ronstadt. The first record under the banner of the full band, Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers is very much a family album, featuring 11 new songs penned by the band members, arranged and produced by Nicki’s husband and the band’s musical director, Tim Bluhm, and recorded at the Bluhm’s Mission Bells studio in San Francisco.
The lead single “Little Too Late” kicks off the proceedings with a fun and funky punch of soulful rock and an anthemic quality to the lyrics that quickly made the song a fan favorite at live shows in the months prior to the album’s release. Also released in advance of the album, “Ravenous” marks a departure for the band as Nicki flirts with her dark side, urged on by haunting echoes of classic Fleetwood Mac. Tim and Nicki’s great love of country music and Americana storytelling takes center stage in the sparkling “Till I’m Blue”, an enchanting ode to lasting love, as well as in “Deep Water”, Nicki’s endearing telling of life lessons learned. Bluhm family friend Steve Poltz, best known for his collaborations with the singer Jewel, contributed the coaxing soul waltz “Check Your Head”.
There is an evergreen quality to the band’s music that resonates with music lovers across ages and time zones, fans who are touched by the band’s natural, bright-eyed charm and timeless expression of life and love. “We make music that generations of friends and families can share,” Nicki offers with a quiet confidence. “For me, there is a tenderness, a humanness. It’s about getting down to the basic level of bringing joy. We’re a fun, honest group of people who love traveling and seeing the country. I’m with my husband and my best friends, we’re so lucky to be doing this, and we’re so grateful for those coming out to visit with us.”
With such an earnest appreciation for every moment of the grueling work and endless hours required for touring “uncharted waters,” as she puts it, one can imagine Nicki almost pinching herself to prove that this really is her life -- and rightfully so. She never saw any of this coming.
Tim and Nicki’s paths first crossed at a house party, when someone passed a guitar to Nicki. Though she’d never before sung in front of a crowd, she took a chance and belted out an impromptu blues number, immediately catching Tim’s ear. It was a spark-plug moment that evolved into the two playing music together, followed by Tim mentoring Nicki as she developed into a career singer/songwriter. As love blossomed and marriage ensued, the couple created and released Nicki’s debut solo album, Toby’s Song (2008).
The formation of Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers happened in similar organic fashion, when Nicki recruited her childhood friend, Deren Ney, to play lead guitar in her new band. Dave Mulligan accepted an invitation from Nicki to join the Gramblers on guitar and vocals while out hiking with the Bluhms one day. Bass player Steve Adams and drummer Mike Curry each got the call from the Bluhms and agreed to double-time it with their existing musical commitments. When not working with his own band, the Mother Hips, Tim takes his place on guitar, keyboard and vocals. Nicki’s second album, Driftwood (2011), earned numerous positive reviews and put Nicki and the Gramblers in front of a wider swath of show goers across the western U.S.
It was during this time that the band’s “Van Sessions” video for Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That” went viral and introduced Nicki and band to the world of their endearing, stripped down versions of classic songs as well as to an existing catalog of original tracks from Nicki’s two previous solo albums. They went back on the road and quickly developed into a tight knit, six-piece headlining act, logging over 200 dates in 2012. In 2013, Nicki and the Gramblers’ touring schedule has included auspicious sets at Bonnaroo, Newport Folk Festival, Hangout Music Festival and Mountain Jam, as well as being featured on network television by veteran journalist Anthony Mason for “CBS This Morning”.
Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers was released August 27 on the Bluhm’s own label, Little Sur Records. more >>> $20.00