Sequels are so often disappointing, but not this time. Last October, Stony Plain released a great set of jam sessions featuring blues masters Charlie Musselwhite and Alvin Youngblood Hart, together with former Squirrel Nut Zipper Jimbo Mathus, North Mississippi Allstars brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson and their father Jim that were recorded in 2007. Now, Stony Plain is releasing the much-anticipated Vol. 2, all of which were recorded at the late Jim Dickinson’s Zebra Ranch Studio in Coldwater, Mississippi.
As with Vol. 1, New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers Vol. 2 recordings offer a timeless piece of Americana that give us a glimpse of what great artists sound like when they get together to play just for the fun of it.
Arguably the greatest living blues harp player, Musselwhite, along with contemporaries like Paul Butterfield, was among the vanguard of white musicians who embraced the blues in the 1960s. Originally from Mississippi, Musselwhite revered the music and earnestly pursued excellence. His first album from 1967, Stand Back! Here Comes Charlie Musselwhite’s Southside Band, is widely recognized as a classic.
Hart has staked his claim as one of the torchbearers of the blues after the great post-World War II generation that carved out a niche for “race music” in Memphis and Chicago. A gifted songwriter, Hart attracted critical acclaim with his mostly acoustic debut album, Big Mama’s Door, in 1996. He is also a member of jug band South Memphis String Band, along with Mathus and the Dickinsons.
After leaving Squirrel Nut Zippers, Mathus has had a successful solo career of his own, and the Dickinsons’ NMA is legendary among younger blues rock bands. Anchoring the session was the legendary producer Jim Dickinson, who played piano and sang on several tracks. Dickinson was the mastermind behind classic releases from Big Star and the Replacements, among others.
The casual, eclectic mix of songs on the New Moon Jelly Roll Vol. 2 release, like Vol. 1’s, is reminiscent of the great Super Session in 1968, for which Al Kooper simply booked some studio time and invited Michael Bloomfield and Stephen Stills over to lay down some tracks. Each artist took the lead on several tracks. Among the best tracks on the New Moon Jelly Roll album are covers of Musselwhite’s “Blues for Yesterday” and “Black Water” (which Musselwhite originally recorded on his fine 2008 album, Sanctuary), Hart’s lead on Doug Sahm’s “She’s About a Mover,” Jim Dickinson’s piano and lead vocals on Charles Mingus’ “Oh Lord, Don’t Let Them Drop That Atom Bomb on Me,” Mathus’ “Greens and Ham,” and Luther Dickinson’s featured guitar work on the instrumental “Blue Guitar.” The album is every bit as good as Vol. 1 and great news for blues enthusiasts who like to hear masters whose sole motivation is to make excellent music.
About the author: Bill Wilcox is a roots music enthusiast recently relocated from the Washington, DC area to Philadelphia, PA and back again.