Spotlight on: MOFRO

At the end of long, stressful and tumultous summer that began with a frenzied month-long trip overseas, ended with the stress of a round of job interviews, and included the unfortunate passing of a loved one’s father (which came bundled with a visit from that loved one, whom I hadn’t seen in over two years), a friend of mine suggested that I needed a night of pure relaxation. Her suggestion: she had gotten a bunch of tickets to see MOFRO, a semi-local band with a somewhat underground national following. The band was called MOFRO.

“MO-FO?” I repeated. “Who names a band MO-FO?”

“MO-FRO,” she corrected. “They’re really good. Since you like that Taylor Hicks guy so much…I think you’re really going to like these guys. The lead is an amazing harmonica player.”

And several evenings later, I found myself sitting in my local blues hall, sipping a mojito (I am obsessed with the mojito), listening to JJ Grey wail on the harmonica and rasp into the microphone while his bandmates furiously banged piano keys and drum sets. Some of the songs were short and sweet; others went on for ten, eleven minutes each. There were slow, languid lamentations about the “good ol’ days” (JJ is from northern Florida, which shares a hell of a lot more in common with the deep south of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana than it does with South Florida, which is my old stomping ground), and jumbled, joyous, fervent tributes to ho cakes and ham hocks and the Florida of yore — the swampy, muggy, lazy life that Floridians used to enjoy (or like to convince themselves that they used to enjoy) before planned communities began popping up out of the dirt like prairie dogs, before tracts of land in Orlando were bought up by mysterious companies for bargain-basement prices. In its review of Blackwater, MOFRO’s last album (a third album, Country Ghetto, is slated to be released early 2007), iTunes snarks on the band’s somewhat naive yearning for a simpler time, but otherwise, the disc nets a rave review. MOFRO call themselves purveyors of “front porch realism;” I prefer the term “redneck rockabilly”…and there ain’t nothin’ wrong with rednecks. The boys have opened for B.B. King and Widespread Panic, and have played the Bonnaroo festival. And live? Live, they rock.

Blackwater is available off iTunes; if you’re going to download at least one track, make sure it’s the titular “Blackwater,” a lackadaisical stroll that infuses the lazy immobility of a hot Florida summer with the spiciness of Cajun rock. JJ’s harmonica work really is a thing to behold here. Swinging the pendulum the other way, “Nare Sugar” is a hectic romp with a porchfront pots-and-pans sound. “Ho Cake” is an electric, growly tribute to down-home southern cookin’. But as great as MOFRO’s recordings are, they’re a jam band at heart, and you’ve got to hear them live. Their tour schedule is up at MOFRO.net; I highly suggest you check them out if they’re heading your way.

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January 2007
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What the kids are sayin’



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