Six heads are better than one — at least when it comes to roots music’s new long-lost supergroup.
Meet the New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers: Charlie Musselwhite, Alvin Youngblood Hart and Jimbo Mathus, along with North Mississippi Allstars’ Luther and Cody Dickinson — and their late father, the legendary musician and producer Jim Dickinson. Despite their handle, the group isn’t new at all. They came together in November 2007, when the sextet sat down for a guitar jam at the Dickinsons’ Zebra Ranch Recording Studio in Coldwater, Miss.
“The New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers album was conceived in the back of a tour bus,” Luther Dickinson recalls. “Mavis Staples and Charlie Musselwhite had hit the road together, with the North Mississippi Allstars as the house band. The tour forged lifelong friendships and collaborations; it changed our lives in so many ways. The package tour was classic showbiz. We’d all been snookered; the tour bus wasn’t what we’d imagined. Instead of rock ’n’ roll luxury, we found ourselves in hard-cushioned, straight-back retirement home mass transport. The stationary armrests made sleeping futile, so Charlie and I passed the miles shooting the breeze. Charlie made a list of great recordings I should check out, which became a catalyst for our recording session. The name of our recording project was born in the back of that ramshackle bus. We had a concept before we had a record. 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.)
“The Dickinson crew doesn’t enjoy parties, but we dig recording sessions and we love hustling up new recording projects. The New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers project was one of our ‘potluck’ recording session albums. For potlucks, we invite a cast of characters to the session/party, and ask each player to bring a couple of songs. Musicians take turns leading and accompanying, and before you know it, a record materializes. Dad said misery sticks to the tape. With that in mind, we always strive to have fun in the studio. Making collaborative records with new and old friends is a blast. The NMJRFR session was a lovefest. We enjoy music as an artifact of friendship, a by-product of the hang.”
Since Jim Dickinson’s passing in 2009, the album sat in the archives until Luther Dickinson and his partner/engineer Kevin Houston finished the production. It is a testament to the great experience and talent of these esteemed performers that they could casually conjure a recording of this quality out of the ether this way. Full of between-song banter and commentary, this album crosses the generations of new blues-rockers and classic blues statesmen. Each of the players in the band has impressive individual resumes, but together they add up to a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers’ fittingly titled Vol. 1 arrives Sept. 4, with Vol. 2 slated for the spring of 2021. Check out the single Blues, Why You Worry Me below.