Just in case you missed Volume 1 or are wondering just what “Blues Super Group” we are referring to in the headline, The New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Riders are Charlie Musselwhite, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Jimbo Mathus, the late Jim Dickinson, Luther Dickinson, and Cody Dickinson. This is the second installment of the six from the Dickinsons’ famed Zebra Ranch in November 2007 and this, Volume 2, consists of eleven songs, apportioned between five of the six, with Jim leading the way with four. While Cody and Luther are mostly sidemen as they were on Volume 1, Luther’s slide guitar gets the spotlight on “Blue Guitar.”. The recording sat in the vaults for 12 years but when Stony Plain founder and blues historian Holger Peterson heard about the sessions last 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.
As you’d expect from gatherings of this sort, there are standards (Doug Sahm’s “She’s About a Mover, “Junior Wells’ “ Messin’ with the Kid,” and Jimmy Reed’s “Can’t Stand to See You Go”), but there are also originals from the principals, and interesting choices such as Charles Mingus’ “Oh Lord, Don’t Let Them Drop That Atom Bomb On Me” from Jim Dickinson,” the searing environmental protest “Black Water” from Musselwhite, as well as new songs brought to the session such as “Searchlight’ and “Greens and Ham” from Mathus.
The album was apparently born on 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 megastars. 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.)”
Stony Plain label head Holger Peterson relates this, “I was backstage at the Edmonton Blues Festival visiting with my old friends Charlie and Henri Musselwhite. We were catching up and I told Charlie I was to have worked with Colin Linden and Luther Dickinson on a recent Stony Plain release, Amour. Charlie brought up the New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers sessions and that got the ball rolling. He sent me the list the next day and Luther sent me rough mixes shortly after that. I’ve been a longtime fan of everyone involved and have appreciated Jim Dickinson’s work and importance.”
As with Volume 1, Musselwhite kicks off the album, this time with “Blues For Yesterday” from his 2006 release Delta Hardware, and his stylish harp is prominent throughout. (Of note is his soloing on the Luther Dickinson instrumental showcase “Blue Guitar”). Jim Dickinson distinguishes himself on four well-chosen covers including the song that best exemplifies the spirit of the comradery apparent on the session, a boozy rendition of Charles Mingus’ “Oh Lord Don’t Let Them Drop That Atom Bomb on Me”.” Alvin Youngblood Hart takes “She’s About a Mover” with Musselwhite blowing hard behind him. Jimbo Mathus steps in with the first of his originals, “Searchlight,” yet another showcase for a Musselwhite harp excursion. His “Greens and Ham,” sone in an acoustic jug band style, follows the Mingus cover.
Jim Dickinson, it should be noted, was in a strong career period during these recordings, having released his Jungle Jim and the Voodoo Tiger in 2006 and Killers from Space in 2007. His barrelhouse piano and Musselwhite’s harp drive “Messin’ with the Kid” and he leads the group through the Junior Wells tune and fittingly closes the album with “Blues Is a Mighty Bad Feeling.” We also hear Hart on his original “Millionaire Blues,” the aforementioned “Black Water” (also from Delta Hardware), and Luther’s slide-driven instrumental “Blue Guitar.”
Luther Dickinson often provides copious liner notes as he does here in conjunction with writer Ernest Suarez. This is highly recommended reading. Since this album, even more so than the first volume, is a tribute to the late Jim Dickinson, the back age of the booklet takes excerpts from his book, I’m Just Dead, I’m Not Gone. Here is the last paragraph from that same excerpt – “Time passes like the river, moving and flowing the same muddy way. Out across the night, there is no past. Every was. The ghost of time walks infinity and settles in the about-to-happen. The same unending path. No one can tell when the present slips into the past. Each man is alone within himself for a brief life, as every father before him. Each holding a piece and passing it on. Each the possessor of time, only that long within his soul-skin. Like the scratches on the rock wall of some prehistoric cave, the recordings we leave behind are our immortality, our means of communicating with the future. This is an act of communion between you and us. Though we are separated by time and space as you listen, we are together.”
It is in the same spirit that we listen to palpable joy shared by these six masters on those November days in 2007.