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JJ Grey And Mofro: Sweet, Stax-Like Soul

The 42-year-old blues-rock singer JJ Grey is sitting by a body of water like his hero Otis Redding once did, only Grey's not just wasting time. While "down by the sea, staring at the sunset," he realizes he never really saw a sunset, "woman, till I met you." Grey's stinging, singing guitar, channeled through an old amp for a little extra echo, emphasizes just how deep his love is.

The sunset woman is "The Sweetest Thing," the title of a song from JJ Grey and Mofro's new album, Georgia Warhorse. Borrowing from the Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul, Grey employs a small army of horn players, who build a rich and inviting structure that buoys his raggedy vocals. The song, like many in the Stax-Volt archive, chugs along like a mid-tempo motorboat, slowly gathering speed.

It also gathers up a second singer. After the first verse, a different tough-guy voice chimes in -- the man Grey calls his "greatest living musical influence," reggae giant and Maytals leader Toots Hibbert. "The Sweetest Thing" functions as a vehicle for two talented singers to swap verses, harmonize and egg each other on. And in this battle of the brotherly baritones, the Jamaican-tinged lilt and worn-yet-piquant quality of Hibbert's vocals gives him a slight edge over gritty Grey. Hibbert's vocals really are the sweetest thing.

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Marc Silver
Marc Silver, who edits NPR's global health blog, has been a reporter and editor for the Baltimore Jewish Times, U.S. News & World Report and National Geographic. He is the author of Breast Cancer Husband: How to Help Your Wife (and Yourself) During Diagnosis, Treatment and Beyond and co-author, with his daughter, Maya Silver, of My Parent Has Cancer and It Really Sucks: Real-Life Advice From Real-Life Teens. The NPR story he co-wrote with Rebecca Davis and Viola Kosome -- 'No Sex For Fish' — won a Sigma Delta Chi award for online reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists.
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