JJ Grey is 44 years old and, in my opinion, just hitting his stride. I find comfort in that, and not just because I’m the same age. He’s forged a trail all his own, and has finally begun to get some recognition for his hard work. Of course, when you release enough “fixed art” to have what could be considered “a body of work,” a certain level of estimation is in order, and he’s overseen the release of 5 studio albums in 10 years. One major milestone – his signing to stalwart blues label Alligator Records several albums ago – may have been the best thing that ever happened to him (from a promotional standpoint), but it may have branded him as a blues artist. JJ Grey is anything but. Call it sweet, swampy, southern-fried soul, but don’t call JJ Grey’s work “The Blues.”
His set as a headliner for Santa Fe Winter Fiesta was jubilant, even when he took back roads into what passes for politicism is his world: the bemoaning of the loss of rural life and a sort of neo-hippyish eco-love. He seems to have settled into his role as bandleader for Mofro quite well. They may not be the same band they were when co-creator Daryl Hance was involved, nor have quite the 70s Stax kick they had with [now Chris Robinson Brotherhood drummer] George Sluppick behind the skins, but this lineup is solid and they allow JJ (“John-John” when he was growing up) to be what, perhaps, he was always meant to be – a frontman.
Opening the set with a barnburner from 2010’s Georgia Warhose – “Hide & Seek” – set the tone for the night: a gritty and heartfelt joyousness, coupled with an implied dare that the audience try NOT to boogie. It was a war everyone in attendance lost by the end of the set.