New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers – Volume 1
10 songs – 46 minutes
Once in a while, artists release albums with little fanfare that just knock your socks off. Volume 1 is just such an album, from the intriguingly named New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers. Of course, one might expect great things when one learns that that the New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers is actually a smorgasbord of leading blues and roots musicians. Too often in the past, however, roots “super groups” have disappointed their audiences by releasing recordings of flaccid jams and/or egotistical meanderings. Thankfully, there is no filler on Volume 1 – and Volume 2 is set to be released in Spring 2021 – just a marvelous collection of top-class musicians playing at the top of their game and evidentially having a lot of fun along the way.
The New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers actually originated in November 2007 when Luther and Cody Dickinson arranged a jam session at their dad’s place. Their dad, of course, being Jim Dickinson, owner of Zebra Ranch Recording Studio in Coldwater, Mississippi and a Memphis music legend for decades. In addition to the Dickinson family members, also in attendance were ex-Squirrel Nut Zippers leader, Jimbo Mathus, and blues legends Charlie Musselwhite and Alvin Youngblood Hart. Chris Chew contributed bass and Paul Taylor added tub bass. The music was recorded live over a couple of days, with each player taking it in turn to lead a song or two. Sadly, Jim Dickinson passed on in 2009 and the recording was consigned to the archives. When Stony Plain founder Holger Petersen learned of the existence of the tapes, he expressed an interest in releasing them and Luther and Kevin Houston finished production on the album.
The result is 10 tracks of glorious blues-roots-Americana, played with tangible joy and gleeful abandon. Musselwhite contributes two of his own songs (the magnificent “Strange Land” – originally released on Musselwhite’s debut album in 1967 – may be the high point of the album) as well as contributing his ageless voice to the Memphis Jug Band’s classic “K.C. Moan”. Elsewhere, the Rockers delight in re-imagining the likes of Charlie Patton (“Pony Blues”) and traditional fare such as “Shake It And Break It” and “Come On Down To My House”. Even the more well-known covers (Wilbert Harrison’s “Let’s Work Together” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Stone Free”) are given a new lease of life, sounding somehow new and different even though they actually remain relatively faithful to the originals.
Mixing electric and acoustic instrumentation with rare ease and facility, the New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers create a rambunctious and exuberant atmosphere that is impossible to resist. Hart’s laughter at the end of “Stone Free” captures the album in microcosm. The production is uniformly excellent and the result is that Volume 1 is easily one of the most impressive releases of 2020. Roll on 2021 and the release of Volume 2.