Fans of JJ Grey and his ever evolving band Mofro will be delighted that the Florida swamp sage lives by the dictum "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" on This River. If anything, Grey has doubled down on the grittier, funkier aspects of 2010's Georgia Warhorse, and brought the studio closer to the stage to boot. The sound on this record is live, crackling. Half of its ten tracks are crunchy uptempo numbers that flex their funky muscles. The rest is balanced between well-articulated soul tunes, a rock number, and back-porch ballads. Set opener "Your Lady, She's Shady" is a crusty, greasy funk attack, while "Somebody Else" walks some weird line between part of the melody from the Classics IV's "Spooky" (courtesy of the Atlanta Rhythm Section's cover), vocal phrasing by Wilson Pickett, and guitars, bass, and horns coming straight from Stax. Speaking of which, the horn chart and melody in "Tame a Wild One" come right out of the late '60s -- and in the grain of Grey's whiskey voice, it feels right. "99 Shades of Crazy" is dirty-ass blues-rock inspired by Delaney Bramlett and Sticky Fingers-era Rolling Stones. Choppy syncopated funk makes its return in "Florabama," and one can feel Muscle Shoals dripping from the horns. While this is definitely retro, Grey's fans expect it; they want it. His songs and his presence as a frontman keep things choogling. But there is a surprise in every track -- the jazz-funk trumpet and Rhodes solos in the jumping, grimy "Harp & Drums" are a prime example. The songs on This River are tighter and more deftly written than on previous offerings, but the more immediate, in-the-moment-of-creation production and incendiary performances keep things from getting slick.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek