Florida-based singer/guitarist JJ Grey seems to be pretty at ease these days. The veteran songwriter/bandleader's latest album Orange Blossoms has a more relaxed and soulful feel than its predecessor, 2005's Country Ghetto, which displayed a decidedly grittier edge. But don't look to Grey for a whole lot of insight on why Orange Blossoms took on this unexpectedly cool personality, or for any predictions about whether this is a sign of a stylistic trend for the talented songwriter.
"I think it's down to chance, honestly," he says. "For whatever reason, Orange Blossoms is not quite as angsty."
And at this point in his career, Grey thinks his next album could go in either direction musically.
"I've got the makings for two different sounding records, just listening to the material," he says. "So I could even do a record now, the next record after Orange Blossoms, and make it pretty aggressive and in-your-face, even more so than Country Ghetto. Or it could be another way. We'll just have to wait and see how that goes. You never know how the record is going to go until you hear enough songs, and you say this grouping of songs matches together."
That was certainly the approach Grey took on Orange Blossoms. It wasn't until after the fact, as Grey was doing paperwork for the writing credits, that he realized just how deeply he had dipped into his pool of material in choosing the songs for the album.
"I was asked for the original copyright date, in other words, when you wrote it and recorded. I was pretty stunned at some of the dates," Grey says. "Like one of the songs, 'What You're Looking For,' or 'WYLF,' I kind of named that like radio call letters for the hell of it. But I wrote that song in 1998. So it's 10 years old. And then, let me think ... Like at the end of the Country Ghetto sessions I wrote 'Orange Blossoms.' 'The Devil You Know' was probably 2005 when I wrote that. So I was like wow, a lot of these songs were written awhile back."
Grey made wise choices for the songs on the new collection. The songs move easily between the punchy and soulful title song and the gritty "The Devil You Know" and smoother, more laid back tracks such as the string-accented ballad "She Don't Know" and lovely mid-tempo tune "The Truth."
Because Grey constantly writes songs with no particular album project in mind, it's only natural that he doesn't predetermine the direction of his albums. He's confident in the natural way the music takes shape, and the way he and his band handle the challenges of arranging and fine-tuning.
"I try not to think about it, and when you do that, if you get out of your own way, the next record happens on its own, so to speak," he says. "If you get lucky enough to surround yourself with players like the guys that I played with, you know when you hit the studio, they can do it. They can get it done. They can make your dreams come true."
Grey has been recording and touring with Mofro since 2001. Today's lineup includes Grey on guitar, keyboards and vocals; guitarist Daryl Hance; bassist/organ player Adam Scone; and drummer Anthony Cole. Grey's current live sets are as uncalculated as his approach to his albums. He notes that only recently, though, did he realize how much his set lists pulled from all four of the Mofro albums.
"I've never really made it a point to do it on purpose," he says. "There are songs off of every one of the records in the show, usually. It just kind of works out that way."