Wednesday, March 3, 2021

New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers - Volume 2

If what you’re after is a slab of blues-rock seething with guitar sorcery, I suggest you get off the bus at the next stop.  This ain’t that kind of album.
The New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers – and that’s a mouthful I won’t be repeating much, believe me - weren’t a real band.  They were a bunch of roots music comrades who got together in the studio back in November 2007, set the tapes rolling, and  - well, played some stuff.  And it’s taken till last year with Volume 1, and now with Volume 2, for the fruits of those sessions to see the light of day.
Memphis big cat Jim Dickinson
The thing is, these weren’t just any old blues geezers.  They included Luther and Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars, and their dad, that redoubtable stalwart of Memphis music Jim Dickinson, who died in 2009.  Also present were the respected Clarksdale harp player Charlie Musselwhite, Grammy Award-winner Alvin Youngblood Hart, and their pal and Squirrel Nut Zipper-in-chief Jimbo Mathus.
The feel of what they recorded is similar to Ian Siegal’s Picnic Sessions album, which was also recorded in the Dickinsons’ Zebra Ranch studio in Mississippi, with some of the same personnel.  The Jelly Rolling gang sat themselves down in a circle and played live, pulling out old covers and a few of their own songs, and capturing them in the most relaxed, down-home style you can imagine.
If a crate of beers and some bottles of rye were dispatched along the way, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.  The Charlie Mingus tune ‘Oh Lord, Don’t Let Them Drop That Atom Bomb On Me’,
Charlie Musselwhite - have harp, will wail
for example, is a slow blues that sounds like a bourbon-soaked funeral march, with Jim Dickinson delivering a plaintive moan’n’groan of a vocal, his chiming piano counterpointing a tentative guitar solo.  The closing ‘Blues Is A Mighty Bad Feeling’ is mournful too, the beat dragging like the half-step-and-pause of a slow march as Dickinson père croons along over warm, spare guitar chords and lonesome harp.
They can swing too though, as they show on a reading of ‘Messin’ With The Kid’ that’s way closer to Junior Wells than Rory Gallagher.  Dickinson senior provides vocals again, growling along over skimpy promptings from son Cody’s drums, twitching rhythm guitar, and Charlie Musselwhite tooting away on the stumbling riff before providing a solo to go along with a sparkling guitar break.  And there’s a similar light touch later, on Jimmy Reed’s ‘Can’t Stand To See You Go’, all chirpy piano and harmonica flourishes.
After taking the lead vocal on opener 'Blues For Yesterday', Musselwhite is also to the fore on the atmospheric highlight and dark-from-the-off ‘Black Water’.  He offers up ghostly harp to accompany lowdown guitar work that’s like an alligator gliding through the bayou, later migrating into a slithering harp’n’slide conversation, while stirrings of drum paradiddles conjure up snakes in the bushes.  But if all that sounds like the setting for a midnight-at-the-crossroads yarn, Musselwhite’s semi-spoken vocal is in fact a reflection on the modern world.
Jimbo Mathus comin' at ya!
  Brighter notes come in the likes of ‘She’s About A Mover’ and ‘Searchlight’.  Alvin Youngblood Hart takes the mic on the former, a Sir Douglas Quintet song owing plenty to Ray Charles, Hart’s voice light and airy for a big fella, over an oom-pah rhythm and jittery tweeting organ, ahead of a fuzzy guitar solo.  On the following ‘Searchlight’ it’s Jimbo Mathus who takes the floor, with some bass work lending a warmer sound, while harp, slide guitar and piano all interweave, Musselwhite gets his wail on for a solo, and some spiky guitar adds extra spice.  Luther Dickinson also gets the chance to shine on the instrumental ‘Blue Guitar’, his slide guitar moaning and slithering around the melody from ‘You Shook Me’, guitar and harp eventually squeaking away together over a grinding rhythm that’s very ‘Chicago Blues’.
What the New Mooners got down was ensemble stuff, feeling their way around each other and the songs to create something organic – loose and spontaneous rather than tight and structured.  Freedom Rockers indeed.  If that sounds like your kind of gig, then get yourself a beer, pull a chair up to the circle, and listen in.
New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers Volume 2 is released on Stony Plain Records on 26 March.

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