- Florida warhorse: JJ Grey
JJ Grey grew up in what he calls the "redneck triangle" -- the nexus of the Florida panhandle, southern Georgia and Alabama -- where he ingested a gritty swamp-funk sound that mixes jam-band groove, greasy Southern-rock swagger and sultry, sweat-soaked soul. In his own music, he's parlayed that upbringing into a sound like The Black Crowes paired with an abiding love of Motown.
Grey, who calls Jacksonville, Fla., home, spent the last dozen years on the road, growing a large, dedicated following. Originally known simply as Mofro, the band's only constant is Grey, hence his current lead billing.
Grey's hard-bitten vocals recall bluesy R&B crooners like Bill Withers and Dr. John. His musical style's evolved across his five albums, though the elements remain the same, balancing impassioned ballads, fiery rockers and loose-limbed jams.
His latest, Georgia Warhorse, is a stripped-down, no-frills album that bristles with energy, toughness and sympathetic emotional urgency while hitting all Grey's favorite stylistic touchstones. He says he wanted something with more "hiss and spit" than 2008's Orange Blossoms.
Named after a hardy Southern strain of grasshopper, Georgia Warhorse pays homage to his grandparents' no-nonsense, "never back down, never say die" spirit -- a spirit that also characterizes Grey, who forges on like those tenacious insects. As he told The Wall Street Journal, "I can roll with [life] or fight it. And if you fight it, you look like you fought it all your life, and you feel like you've fought it all your life. It's a bad place to be, and I've lived that too."
JJ Grey & Mofro with Ryan Montbleau Band. 8 p.m. Fri., Nov. 19 (doors at 7 p.m.). Mr. Small's Theatre, 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. $18. All ages. 412-821-4447 or www.mrsmalls.com