JJ Grey & Mofro / Mofro

Lochloosa

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Three years after their celebrated debut, Blackwater, north central Florida's Mofro return with another offering of steamy, greasy "front-porch soul" produced by Dan Prothero. Lochloosa refers to Lake Lochloosa, on the outskirts of Jacksonville, FL, the earthly and archetypal home to Mofro's John "JJ" Grey and Daryl Hance. A raw meld of swampy funk, back-to-basics rock, and Southern soul bleeds from these grooves, as it did on Blackwater. Lochloosa is a hand-carved example of the kind of music that happens after midnight when all the civilians have gone home. Things get blurry, intimate, less self-conscious, sexual, maybe even a little dangerous. A practical contrast would be from Florida's own terrain: this set feels more like Tony Joe White than it does Lynyrd Skynyrd. Oh yeah, that is a good thing. The unabashedly masculine, heartfelt concern for the terrain and a way of life that comes from it is presented with wiry, tough, sinewy songs that never stoop to whining or cheap, sloganeering ploys. Here are songs that howl with a down-home recklessness that balances rough-and-tumble celebratory hedonism with folksy backwoods spirituality.

On the title track, Mike Sharpio's Fender Rhodes slips the tune out unobtrusively with a laid-back soul groove that is widened by Hance's slide guitar and a lonely whispering harmonica courtesy of Grey. When he begins singing, straight from the fire in his belly, about spiritual homesickness for a place that is disappearing, he is speaking figuratively as well as literally: "I swear it's ten thousand degrees in the shade/Lord have mercy/How much I love it…Every mosquito/Every rattlesnake/Every cane break/Everything…All we need is one more/Damned developer/Tearin' her heart out…Lord I need her and she's slippin' away…." Desire drips from a heart breaking with sadness, love, and rage. The drums shuffle more insistently; the groove gets longer, more intense, more mournful and sweet. In the grain of his voice is the sound of the land itself: desolate, hot, full of wildness and serenity. It is endangered; it is being erased from historical memory by Mickey Mouse, gated communities, and golf courses.

An answer is in "Dirtfloorcracker," a stomping Bootsy Collins-inspired slice of edgy funk; it's a swampbilly anthem disguised as a party tune. "Fireflies" is another unsentimental tune about the land where the music of the country meets down-home muddy soul. The spooky, electric moaning blues of "Ten Thousand Islands" scratches the tradition until it bleeds. The shambolic gospel-blues of "Long Road Home" near the album's close asks the question "Do you know where you're goin'?" and it's an ellipsis, a cipher. Even as Grey roughly croons it into the air, he seems to query not only the individual, but history and the viral imposing culture of greed and power as well. As it ends in a lingering silence before the solo acoustic blues of "Pray for Rain" closes the record -- another lyric example of disappearance -- one cannot escape its poignancy. Lochloosa is a startlingly good, perhaps even great, record by a band that revels in mystery, history, and deliriously infectious grooves.

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