Blues Supergroup, The New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers Release ‘ST Volume 1’ from Informal 2007 Session (ALBUM REVIEW)

The assembled cast here was too long or maybe it was the lengthy band name that didn’t permit us to squeeze the names into the headline, but we’ll mention these glowing names at the outset. The New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Riders are Charlie Musselwhite, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Jimbo Mathus, the late Jim Dickinson, Luther Dickinson, and Cody Dickinson.  These six gathered for a session at the Dickinsons’ famed Zebra Ranch in November 2007 and this, Volume 1, consisting of ten songs, is the first of two recently discovered albums that will be released, with Volume 2 due in the Spring of next year.

The tracks feature Musselwhite and Hart in the lead for three each with Mathus and the elder Dickinson two each. Cody and Luther were sidemen. The recording sat in the vaults for 12 years but when Stony Plain founder and blues historian Holger Peterson heard about the sessions this year, he was keen on releasing it so Luther and his partner/engineer Kevin Houston finished production of the album. It was done “old school” as have most projects recorded at the Zebra Ranch. The musicians sat in one big circle in the studio (probably with the doors open), taking turns singing out in the room and improvising on the spot.

The album was apparently born the back of a tour bus when the North Mississippi Allstars were backing Mavis Staples and Charlie Musselwhite. It turned out that the digs of the bus were not very comfortable, not the kind you’d associate with rock n’ roll mega stars. Luther and Musselwhite spent lots of time talking as it was difficult to sleep. Musselwhite made a list of great recordings that he suggested Luther check out. They became the catalyst for these sessions. And there’s also this anecdote – “…As I explained Alvin Youngblood Hart’s mission to live life as a ‘Freedom Rocker,” Charlie pointed out the window; there was a new moon that evening. Suddenly, “New Moon Freedom Rockers” materialized. (Dad added ‘Jellyroll” after the recording session.)”

You can sense the fun they had as each takes turns leading while the others chime in with encouragement, musically and verbally too.  They call it “potluck recording.” Most of these are, as mentioned, older songs from the likes of the Mississippi Sheiks, Memphis Jug Band, Charlie Patton, or even public domain. Yet, Musselwhite brought in two of his own and Mathus brought one. Musselwhite talks about “Strange Land” being about trying to find a job when he first came to Chicago, not knowing a soul in the city. Of course, he blows his harp wonderfully on this standout track.  Musselwhite also kicks off the album with” Blues Why You Worry Me.” Mathus, of Squirrel Nut Zippers fame, brings his own  funky syncopated “Night Time,” kicking into his signature gear there and on the rollicking  public domain tune “Shake and Break It.” The latter is a hard one to follow but Alvin Youngblood Hart transforms Jimi Hendrix’s “Stone Free” into a rave-up country blues and closes the album with the acoustic “Stop and Listen Blues” from the Mississippi Sheiks.

It’s a shame we only get the late Jim Dickinson in the lead twice. His piano-driven interpretation of “Come On Down to My House” brings out the best in the group with all singing along. His other contribution, ‘Let’s Work Together,” hits the spirit of collaboration directly, perhaps the track most emblematic of the joy had by all. Mandolins from Hart and Luther color this tune as well as a few others. At times you’ll also hear Cody on his washboard.

This one has all the trappings of a “Let’s roll the tape and see what happens” kind of session. The joy is palpable and what’s better yet, there’s a second installment on the way.

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