By ERIC BARTON
If you've ever been to Lochloosa, you’d wonder why JJ Grey is always singing about it. It’s up in the Florida lake country, past nothing and halfway to Hawthorne. I think there might be a Hardee’s there.
But there’s something in Grey’s voice when he sings that song about his hometown. There’s something that feels like true life homesickness.
I first heard that in Grey’s voice back in 2002 at a Tampa juke joint called Skipper's Smokehouse. It’s actually a place that feels a lot like where I saw Grey and his band Mofro tonight, at Crossroads Kansas City. Like Skipper’s, Crossroads is nothing more than some park benches, mulch, corrugated metal and a sound system. It actually feels like it could be in Lochloosa.
Back when I saw them at Skipper’s, it was just Mofro. Now it’s JJ Grey and Mofro, and that name change is evident in the stage presence. No doubt Grey’s voice has always been the soulful center of Mofro. He sounds like a Southern rock guitarist bred with a Motown vocalist. Combine it with that dime store electric piano he plays, and there’s no doubt Grey has a sound that means he can pick who backs him.
But as was evident tonight, the spotlight’s always on Grey. That was clear when he first picked up his Gibson in the second song. Seemed the thing wasn’t plugged in or something, and Grey tossed it on the ground. Come on. You don’t mistreat an instrument. They know that in Lochloosa.
Even with the spotlight that followed Grey throughout the night, Mofro still showed why they back Grey. The pair of horns, the keyboards, the bass guitarist sitting to the side, the dreadlocked drummer, they all picked it up as Grey laid it down with that voice that goes quickly from gravel to two lane.
Especially when they got to “Lochloosa On My Mind” and again at “Florida.” It’s those two songs that define Grey. Mofro followed him as Grey up tempoed both songs until they were playing a bluesy jam that fit Crossroads.
When they were playing all together like that, it felt like Mofro, back before somebody’s name preceded it. Okay, it felt like Lochloosa.