New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers: Volume 1 Review

The term super group should probably be regulated in some way. Just because a band has at least two people who were once in different bands doesn’t make a super group. You know you’re dealing with a super group when you find yourself surprised by how long the line-up keeps impressing you. New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers is a super group, if not in name (although it would make for a fantastic seasonal Dunkin’ Donuts pastry offering), then in membership. But more importantly, in performance.

The band features Luther and Cody Dickinson, of the North Mississippi All Stars, plus about 45% of blues/Americana recordings made each year; their father, the late, great pianist Jim Dickinson; Jimbo Mathus, formerly of Squirrel Nut Zippers and an accomplished producer; harmonica legend Charlie Musselwhite; and Grammy-winning guitarist Alvin Youngblood Hart. The project dates back to November 2007 when the friends and family got together to record a jam/album over a few days. Dickinson died in 2009, the album left to wait patiently until recently, when the head of Stone Plain Records learned of its existence and pushed to have it finished.

The most impressive thing about Volume 1 (there’s also enough material left for Volume 2 next spring) is the album’s complete and cohesive sound. This isn’t mindless jamming nor is it quick-cut edits designed to smooth out tracks. There’s a low-key, casual energy to the songs, but while a few are on the long side, nothing meanders. Every tune has a purpose and an arc. And it captures some exciting moments.

Musselwhite’s tracks are particularly impressive. While he’s known for his harmonica work, he sings on three tracks, showcasing a timeless voice that’s equal parts country and blues. It perfectly reflects the music, which is strongly blues-based but has charming detours into more roots-oriented music. “Blues, Why You Worry Me” skips along at a leisurely pace, Jim Dickinson’s piano playfully following behind the music, like a solider in no hurry to return to his regiment from a leave.

There are also some fun covers. The band reconceives “Let’s Work Together,” perhaps most famously covered by Canned Heat, as a spiritual stomp, complete with swirling organ and preachy Jim Dickinson vocals. Jimi Hedrix’s “Stone Free” is a faithful take, but between Hart’s bluesy vocals and Musselwhite’s lively harmonica, the song feels recognizable-yet-new.

When an album is lost for this long, one might assume the music wasn’t that good. It’s possible Luther Dickinson and Kevin Houston cleaned-up a lot in post-production, but the bones are too solid to think this was ever anything less than a fun record that feels like almost what the Band might have been had they kept going. It’s hard not to listen to this and wonder what might have been, had someone released the album before Dickinson died. Listening to Volume 1 it feels like a band that could have been special, but never got the chance. Luckily some music remains for us to enjoy.

The Review: 9.5/10

Can’t Miss Tracks

– Stone Free
– Let’s Work Together
– Blues, Why You Worry Me
– Strange Land

The Big Hit

– Strange Land

Review by Steven Ovadia

Buy the album: Amazon | Amazon UK

 

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