Wednesday, July 25, 2007

James "Blood" Ulmer - Bad Blood In the City (Hyena, 2007)

Guitarist and vocalist James "Blood" Ulmer began his career as a playing harmolodic free jazz heavily influenced by his mentor, Ornette Coleman. His music has always embraced funk and R&B but in the last several years he has made an abrupt turn deep into the blues, going to famous blues related studios throughout America to cut a fine series of albums for Joel Dorn's Hyena label. Recording at New Orleans' Piety Street, he faces the enormity of what Mother Nature and governmental bungling have done. Leading off with an amazing one-two punch of "Survivors of the Hurricane" and Junior Kimbrough's hill country stomp "Sad Days, Lonely Nights" he evokes the emotional trauma that the people of that city have endured during the past few years. "Sad Days" in particular is an astounding performance, Blood sings like an old testament prophet intoning from beyond the veil while scalding guitar, flute (!) and harmonica wail unmercifully . The joyous gospel stomp "Let's Talk About Jesus" and the sober "This Land Is No One's Land" which darkly updates Woody Guthrie for the GWB era lead into a remarkable trio of covers. "Dead Presidents," "Commit a Crime" and "Grinnin' in Your Face" are all canonical blues songs that take a lot to make fresh again. Ulmer seems truly touched on this disc and is more than up to the task, singing with great power and playing some very unique guitar. Special mention must be made of David Barnes, who adds some wonderful swooping, wheezing harmonica on several of these songs. "Backwater Blues" and "Old Slave Master" take us back full circle to the sadness and grief of the hurricane's aftermath and the shameful lack of assistance provided to the black community of New Orleans. This is a deeply moving album and one of the highlights of Ulmer's career. His seamless combination of several different types of music into a coherent whole defy categorization and make this an album that can be enjoyed by anyone with a heart and a soul. Very highly recommended.

See also: James Lee Burke's new novel The Tin Roof Blowdown takes an excellent (although fictional) look at the aftermath of Katrina.

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