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Blues Masters: Elvin Bishop & Charlie Musselwhite and New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers

Doug Collette By

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The tradition of the blues remains tried but true over generations of musicians and fans, the devotion of the latter mirroring and complementing the loyalty of the former. And the twisting, turning geography of the music's evolution, from Africa to the Southern delta (and its adjacent hill country) up the Mississippi River to Chicago, is itself a reflection of that longstanding relationship. Likewise, the career paths of Elvin Bishop and Charlie Musselwhite long ran parallel before intersecting at the understated flash-point represented by their record, while the members of the New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers are bonded as much by blood (Luther, Cody and their Dixie music visionary father, the late Jim Dickinson) as a shared devotion to the genre they love (with Charlie Musselwhite, Alvin Youngblood Hart and Jimbo Mathus). All this commingling of history may or may not have been destiny waiting to happen, but the impact of their respective fusions of spirit is undeniable nonetheless.

Elvin Bishop And Charlie Musselwhite
100 Years Of Blues
Alligator Records
2020

Contrary to his long-established down-home persona, Elvin Bishop doesn't need to yuk it up much past the opener here to emphasize the casual air of this meeting of musical minds with Charlie Musselwhite. The easy shuffle of "Birds of a Feather" perfectly sets up the slow twelve-bar titled "West Helena Blues," while it's a measure of the natural chemistry at work here that even the topical "What The Hell?" adds to, rather than detracts from, the momentum of the ten tracks. Of course, there's a palpable tongue-in-cheek attitude underlying frustration in that song itself and on top of that, it's the (fortunately) shortest cut here. More affirmation immediately follows, albeit indirectly, in the form of Musselwhite's forlorn "Good Times;" wherein the latter's slide guitar underscores the contrast in color with the piano of Bob Welsh. Co-produced (with the principals and the latter multi-instrumentalist), Kip Andersen (who also plays some upright bass here) recorded, mixed and mastered this approximately fifty-minute album, thereby ensuring it sounds like one extended burst of inspiration on the part of all involved.

New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers
Vol.1
Stony Plain Records
2020

The easy, natural shuffle into which these six musicians slip at the outset of this roughly forty-five minutes is fully indicative of the pervasive camaraderie that compelled this release over a decade after its recording. "Blues, Why You Worry Me?" reappears in an even more devil-may-care take than on the Bishop/Musselwhite album and it's not long into "Pony Blues" before the realism and presence of Kevin Houston's recording (subsequently produced by this ad hoc band itself) encircles a listener for the duration of the ten tracks: the instrumental versatility here, not to mention the surfeit of riches allowing duly-noted multiple lead singers, belies the informality permeating the resulting atmosphere. As does the breadth of arrangement that allows the ghostly "Night Time" to reside in the middle of such generally high spirits conjured through this (undoubtedly self-referential) take on Wilbert Harrison's "Let's Work Together," not to mention the fleet rendition on Jimi Hendrix' "Stone Free." What a welcome thought indeed to anticipate yet another edition from this this cheerfully simpatico crew in spring 2021.

Tracks and Personnel

100 Years of Blues

Tracks: Birds Of A Feather; West Helena Blues; What The Hell?; Good Times; Old School; If I Should Have Bad Luck; Midnight Hour Blues; Blues, Why Do You Worry Me?; South Side Slide; Blues For Yesterday; Help Me; 100 Years Of Blues.

Personnel: Elvin Bishop: guitar, vocals; Charlie Musselwhite: harmonica, vocals, slide guitar; Bob Welsh: guitar, piano; Kid Andersen: upright bass.

Vol. 1

Tracks: Blues Why You Worry Me; Pony Blues; Night Time; Come on Down to My House ;K. C. Moan; Let's Work Together; Shake It and Break It; Stone Free; Stop and Listen Blues; Strange Land.

Personnel: Charlie Musselwhite: harmonica, vocals; Alvin Youngblood Hart: guitar, mandolin, vocals; Jimbo Mathus: guitar, vocals; Jim Dickinson: piano, vocals; Luther Dickinson: guitars, mandolin, bass, vocals; Cody Dickinson: drums, washboard, vocals.

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