The whimsically named New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers are a kind of blues super-group consisting of Alvin Youngblood Hart, Charlie Musselwhite, Luther & Cody Dickenson, Jimbo Mathus and Jim Dickinson. Volume 2, as you may have guessed, follows up Volume 1, which was released in 2020, to great acclaim, becoming a Top 20 Billboard and Top 10 Living Blues chart album. Both volumes cover recordings from 2007 at the Zebra Ranch Recording Studio in Coldwater, Mississippi, the home studio of Jim and Mary Dickinson.
By all accounts it was a classic old-school recording, the musicians sitting together in a circle in the studio and playing amongst the microphones, taking turns singing out in the room and improvising on the spot. Jim Dickinson said it was a “hi-fi recording of a lo-fi sound.” When you read Luther Dickinson’s and Ernest Suarez’s liner notes, clearly the guys had a blast making music together for these few days. Luther Dickinson said that the recordings were “a joy to make.”
With Jim Dickinson passing away in 2009, the recordings just sat there all these years until Stony Plain founder Holger Petersen heard about them in 2019 and expressed his enthusiasm to release it. Luther Dickinson and engineer Kevin Houston duly finished the production of the albums. That lo-fi recording sound was sorted out and the result, as Luther Dickinson puts it, is a “sound that makes listeners fell like they’re sitting in with us.”
Volume 2 adds another eleven songs to the ten we got with Volume 1. It’s a great selection which includes originals alongside Charles Mingus’s Oh Lord Don’t Let Them Atomic Bomb On Me, Junior Wells’s Messin’ With The Kid, Jimmy Reed’s Can’t Stand To See You Go and Earl Hooker’s Blues Guitar.
Things kick-off with Charlie Musselwhite’s unmistakable vocals and harp on a down and dirty blues shuffle, Blues for Yesterday. “It’s getting late in the evening, Maybe my time is done,” he drawls, then quickly assures us in an aside “I doubt it.” It’s hugely enjoyable stuff and a great way to start the album.
Alvin Youngblood Hart is up next in a 1960s Beatles-esque number, before Jimbo Mathus gets his turn in the spotlight in Searchlight, a good-time Chicago blues featuring some great guitar-harp interplay.
We get a slow piano blues from Jim Dickinson, renown producer, piano player and singer next. Dickinson’s plaintive vocals and the slightly anarchic feel as Charles Mingus’s song progresses suits the subject matter perfectly – Oh Lord Don’t Let Them Drop that Atomic Bomb on Me. Dickinson’s raw vocals are also featured to great effect on Messin’ With the Kid, Can’t Stand to See You Go and the final track, Blues is a Mighty Bad Feeling. This last Mississippi Sheiks’ song drips with blues feeling, with Dickinson’s world-weary vocals, and Musselwhite’s mournful harmonica.
There’s a lot of cool guitar along the way from Luther Dickinson, not least in in the slow-burning instrumental Blue Guitar. And throughout the album you get the sense of a group of musicians thoroughly into it, melding their individual crafts effortlessly. It sounds spontaneous and unforced, but the huge skill and experience of this crew ensure it never sounds just raw. It’s a joyous exploration of the blues, with great heart and soul A fine tribute to Jim Dickinson and a huge treat of an album for all of us.
New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers Vol. 2 – Track Listing
1. Blues for Yesterday (featuring Charlie Musselwhite)
2. She’s About a Mover (featuring Alvin Youngblood Hart)
3. Searchlight (featuring Jimbo Mathus)
4. Oh Lord, Don’t Let Them Drop That Atom Bomb on Me (featuring Jim Dickinson)
5. Greens and Ham (featuring Jimbo Mathus)
6. Messin’ with the Kid (featuring Jim Dickinson)
7. Black Water (featuring Charlie Musselwhite)
8. Millionaire Blues (featuring Alvin Youngblood Hart)
9. Can’t Stand to See You Go (featuring Jim Dickinson)
10. Blue Guitar (featuring Luther Dickinson)
11. Blues Is a Mighty Bad Feeling (featuring Jim Dickinson)