Throughout this 2020 pandemic, we’ve seen several archival releases. Neil Young put out “Homegrown,” a lost album from the 1970s Ditch Trilogy era. The Rolling Stones just reissued “Goats Head Soup” with a slew of previously unreleased alternate versions of songs, outtakes and a pressing of their acclaimed 1973 live show “Brussels Affair.” And now, we have the “New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers Vol. 1,” which is basically a big blues party featuring famed producer Jim Dickinson, who died in 2009, his sons Luther and Cody Dickinson, along with Charlie Musselwhite, Alvin Youngblood Hart and Jimbo Mathus. It was recorded in 2007.
The Dickinsons like to hold “potluck” jams at their Zebra Ranch studio back home in Mississippi, where they have informal get-togethers, everybody brings some songs, and they press record, hoping some magic will happen, or at least a lot of fun. Good news: They captured both with these recordings. All live, lots of bleed and lots of love.
As is customary, I received this CD in the mail with no fanfare. I didn’t know what it was, and I admit that when I saw who was on it I was pretty excited being a huge North Mississippi Allstars fan, as well as a fan of Jim’s work, Charlie’s, Alvin’s, well everybody involved. As soon as I put the CD on in the car, I was hooked with the first song. It just sounded correct. It sounded like what you wanted to hear, in the best ways possible. It is mixed well, balancing the bleed with all of the mysto mojo.
The performances are awesome. It is not virtuoso stuff per se (although they can easily go that direction if they desire), it’s much more heartland and down home, but you can tell all these cats really know how to play the blues. There’s no jive. There’s no gratuitous overplaying. There’s no underplaying. It’s all just right, and I’m not just saying that because of the reverence I hold for their blues literacy. If I didn’t know who was playing, I would feel the exact same way.
The album leads off with Charlie Musselwhite’s “Blues Why You Worry Me?” which is a nice midtempo shuffle. It feels like 1962 in Chicago. Tasty guitar licks are traded between Luther and Mathus. Jim’s rocking the 88s throughout. “Pony Blues” is next, and it’s got more of an old Delta blues feel, which of course is a specialty of ‘dem Mississippi Dickinson boys. Cody and Luther own this one with Alvin Youngblood Hart’s rot-gut bourbon-soaked vocals.
Jimbo Mathus brings his offering to the potluck next with “Night Time,” which has a sprawling, slinky, pulsating groove to it. Reminds me a bit of something that you’d hear on Buddy Guy’s “Sweet Tea” album, which Mathus was a part of as well. Highlight: Luther and Musselwhite trading some psychedelia-tinged harp and guitar licks. It all feels so off the cuff and so great at the same time. These guys are doing it right.
Jim Dickinson steps in next with a cabaret/saloon vibe somewhat reminiscent of “Dead Shrimp Blues.” Other favorites: The dobro and the delta are further evoked on “K.C. Moan,” a fresh take on the Charlie Musselwhite classic “Strange Land,” and a surprise to hear a lively take of Hendrix’s “Stone Free” – but it fits right in, with incendiary harp playing to top it off.
I don’t know what awards and ceremonies mean anymore with music, but if the Grammy committee is looking to make a good decision this year, it needs to take a hard listen to this instant masterpiece of a blues album. I hear most everything that’s coming out, and I haven’t heard anything in the blues/roots category that is quite on this level. It’s a cut above. Let’s just hope they press it on vinyl soon, in time for Volume 2 this spring and a well-deserved Grammy!
— Jon Siembieda
- ‘New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rocker Vol. 1’
Release: Sept. 4, 2020
Label: Stony Plain Records