- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 8, 2007

James Blood Ulmer

Bad Blood in the City: The Piety Street Sessions

Hyena Records

With New York bluesman James Blood Ulmer’s new album, “Bad Blood in the City: The Piety Street Sessions,” an outsider has delivered a much needed dose of funk and blues fusion that could prove to be useful medicine for the ailing New Orleans music scene, which, like the city itself, has yet to fully recover from Hurricane Katrina.

With its raw emotion, haunting sounds, and biting lyrics, “Bad Blood,” recorded in New Orleans over three days, proves instantly infectious and thoroughly timeless. Mr. Ulmer has taken all of his anguish over the city’s destruction, and conveyed urgency not heard in any recording out of the Big Easy since the hurricane hit.

Best known as an experimental jazz guitarist in the 1970s and a revisionist bluesman in the 1990s and onward, Mr. Ulmer has flirted with greatness on acclaimed albums such as “Odyssey,” “Memphis Blood,” and 2005’s “Birthright.” But none of these records scream with the raw emotion of “Bad Blood.”

From the record’s opening track, “Survivors of the Hurricane,” it’s clear that Mr. Ulmer’s hypnotic blues-funk fusion is music that is intended to be played loud. Crunchy, rustic grooves by Mr. Ulmer and his ultra-tight Memphis Blood Blues Band swirl around Mr. Ulmer’s signature staccato growl.

Produced by guitar wizard Vernon Reid of Living Colour fame, “Bad Blood” mixes five original tunes penned by Mr. Ulmer with covers of songs by John Lee Hooker, Willie Dixon and Junior Kimbrough. These songs, especially Mr. Kimbrough’s “Sad Days, Lonely Nights,” blend seamlessly with Mr. Ulmer’s original material.

“Bad Blood” glimmers with purpose and blunt resolve underscored by Mr. Reid’s furious guitar fills and the band’s in-the-pocket rhythm section.

Mr. Ulmer has connected with the New Orleans sound in a way outsiders rarely do. Fortunately for the Crescent City music scene, Mr. Ulmer may have connected and inspired just in the nick of time.

H. Andrew Schwartz is a contributing editor to OffBeat: Louisiana and New Orleans’ Music Resource.

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