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James " Blood " Ulmer
NO ESCAPE FROM THE BLUES: THE ELECTRIC LADY SESSIONS
(Hyena)
Stars graphics

Guitarist Ulmerís transition from cutting-edge jazz noisemaker to down-home junkyard dog has been unsettling for some of his long-term fans, but he has the right feel and attitude, tapping into the heart of the blues while nudging the genre in progressive directions. "Are You Glad to Be in America?", which he first cut in 1980, gets reimagined here as a slow study in droning one-chord hypnosis à la Junior Kimbrough but nonetheless maintains its bite as Ulmer asks, "Are you glad to be in America/Home of the brave and slavery," and plumbs chords with a chiming African feel. He also tackles a few standards, cutting the air in a sizzling guitar duet with producer and Living Coloür ax swinger Vernon Reid on Earl Kingís "Come On (Let the Good Times Roll)" and letting the hangover implicit in Jimmy Reedís "Bright Lights, Big City" come thumping out like a throbbing, abused vein. Olu Dara, another jazzman whose career has been reignited by recent excursions into the blues, lends languid pocket trumpet to the tune. And Ulmer deserves credit for the most interesting recasting of the classic "Trouble in Mind": hanks to Reidís electric sitar and John Kruthís tamboura, the number takes on an air of Eastern mysticism. Although these dozen songs were cut at New York Cityís Electric Lady Studios, which were built by Jimi Hendrix, most could have been recorded in a tarpaper-covered Mississippi shack. Ulmer calls on all the right, ragged tones, and he sings in a relaxed, natural rusty voice that sounds cured by the baking Southern summer sun.

(James "Blood" Ulmer appears next Thursday, December 11, at Johnny Dís, 17 Holland Street in Somervilleís Davis Square;. call 617-776-2004)

BY TED DROZDOWSKI


Issue Date: December 5 - 11, 2003
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