In true rock-and-roll tradition, New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers were born in the back of a tour bus, and they’re everything their name implies. Raucous, rattly, raw, and magnificently loose, Charlie Musselwhite, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Jimbo Mathus, Jim Dickinson with sons Luther and Cody Dickinson, along with Chris Chew and Paul Taylor, make up a group of road-tested wanderers turned loose for a rip on what they dubbed a potluck session, with each member bringing a couple of songs into the studio. The loosely configured partnership came about on a tour with Mavis Staples, with Musselwhite and the North Mississippi Allstars onboard as the house band. The bus was so uncomfortable that sleep was impossible, so Musselwhite schooled Luther Dickinson on records he should explore, birthing the idea for the sessions.
Recorded in 2007 at the Allstars’ Zebra Ranch Recording Studio in Coldwater, Mississippi, with the musicians gathered in one room, Volume 1 languished in the vaults until record label Stony Plain founder Holger Petersen heard about the sessions this year and decided to release them.
“Blues Why You Worry Me” is classic Musselwhite, simultaneously classy and low-down as he blows his lungs out surrounded by a trio of guitar players’ barbed-wire licks, Dickinson tinkling along happily in the background.
Squirrel Nut Zippers alum Jimbo Mathus’ arrangement of “Shake It and Break It” is a wonderfully rattly trainwreck that sounds like a juke joint late at night after the band has drained the jug and is as ripped as the audience, all enjoying themselves immensely.
Wilbert Harrison’s second biggest hit after 1959’s “Kansas City,” 1970s “Let’s Work Together,” here is led by Jim Dickinson on piano and vocals and sounds like it’s backed by Leon Russell’s superstar Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour band. Hart and Luther’s mandolins try to loan it a gypsy jazz feel, but Dickinson and Musselwhite blow it off with rollicking blues-drenched piano and harp licks. It’s a rip-snorter made for knocking out windows and tearing down doors.
Musselwhite wrote “Stranger in a Strange Land” when he was 18, walking the streets of Chicago jobless. But his vocal on this one could have gotten him hired as a Jerry Lee Lewis impersonator had he been so inclined.
Alvin Youngblood Hart re-imagines Hendrix’s “Stone Free,” but it’s Musselwhite who really transforms it with his frenetic harp work.
You can hear one or more of the participants chuckling softly after each cut, satisfied with themselves and the sound. It’s catching — pass it on.