THE PRESS RELEASE: “The first volume of music from roots “supergroup,” New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers — Charlie Musselwhite, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Jimbo Mathus, the late Jim Dickinson, and North Mississippi Allstars members Luther Dickinson and Cody Dickinson — is out now. Recorded at the Zebra Ranch Recording Studio in Coldwater, Miss., the 10 blues-drenched tracks of sublime roots music on New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers Volume 1 will be followed in the spring of 2021 by Volume 2.
The New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers originated back in November 2007, when Luther and Cody Dickinson sat down for a guitar jam with ex-Squirrel Nut Zippers leader Mathus, blues greats Musselwhite and Youngblood Hart, and the late Memphis pianist, producer and all-around musical stylist Jim Dickinson.
For more than 12 years, that recording’s existence was mentioned only obscurely in interviews, and referenced as a great old-school recording by those few witnesses. It was done “old school” style live off-the-floor over several days, where the musicians all sat in one big circle in the studio and played quietly amongst the microphones, taking turns singing out in the room and improvising on the spot. Since Jim Dickinson’s passing in the summer of 2009, the album just hung out in the archives, waiting. When Stony Plain founder Holger Petersen heard about the sessions this year and expressed his enthusiasm to release it, Luther Dickinson and his partner/engineer Kevin Houston finished the production of the album 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, sounding as if the listener is right there in the room with them, with between-song banter and commentary, the classic structures of the blues, being pulled together and teased apart by some of the most award-decorated members of the blues elite. This album crosses the generations of new blues-rockers and classic blues statesmen.
“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 love fest. We enjoy music as an artifact of friendship, a by-product of the hang.”
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. Musselwhite is a living blues treasure: a Grammy winner, multiple Blues Music Award winner and Memphis Music Hall of Fame inductee. Youngblood Hart is a Grammy-winning musician who was born in Oakland, California, and spent some time in Mississippi, where he was influenced by the country blues performed by his relatives. Besides his previous work with Youngblood Hart and Luther Dickinson in the South Memphis String Band, Mathus was a founder and leader of the roots-bending Squirrel Nut Zippers, a band formed in 1993 in Chapel Hill, N.C., whose music was a fusion of Delta blues, gypsy jazz, 1930s–era swing, klezmer, and other styles.