Following up on his 2005 release Birthright, the CD that was embraced by the music world as one of the most important blues records of the year, James Blood Ulmer is releasing Bad Blood In The City on May 8th 2007. As much as I loved Birthright for its "…blues at its finest", I like this album even better.
Bad Blood In The City was made in New Orleans, about New Orleans. It's about Katrina and the after effect to the people of New Orleans; especially the disenfranchised. Why now? Katrina is almost two years past and the city is coming back, they had football back last year, basketball is coming back this next year. The city is rebuilding and growing out of the ashes.
According to producer Vernon Reid, "For me, it seems more important to record this music now than right after Katrina. With the media no longer focused on it, this is when the tragedy starts slipping to the backs of our collective memories, but we can't forget what happened down there." Ulmer did write the majority of the songs from Bad Blood In The City during the days following Hurricane Katrina; while he was still promoting Birthright.
In December 2006, Ulmer and the Memphis Blood Blues Band entered the Piety Street Studios. The band consists of Vernon Ried on guitar, Charlie Burnham on fiddle, David Barnes on harmonica, Leon Gruenbaum on keyboards, Mark Peterson on bass and Aubry Dayle on drums.
Bad Blood In The City contains eleven songs, five of which are Ulmer originals. The sessions start with "Survivors of the Hurricane" performing a complex painting of the disaster that was Katrina. With a Clavinet grove and Vernon Reid's explosive guitar work matching Ulmer's biting lyrics "..they called themselves heroes for doing their jobs." This is a masterpiece!
When I first heard "Sad Days, Lonely Nights", the Junior Kimbrough tune, I was not sure if I liked it at first. It kept calling me back to give it one more listen and one more listen until I realized it was the hypnotic quality that kept calling me back like a siren's wail. "Katrina", is a biting commentary on the fact that the "rich and able" left the poor to fend for themselves. The track was cut in the dead of night and biting edges shows its gnarly teeth.
"Let's Talk About Jesus", is a wonderful gospel blues piece that really kicks it up a notch. Adding Irene Dasher, the voices blend in an old time harmony. Then, they do a rendition of John Lee Hooker's "This Land is Nobody's Land". This he turns into a modern day social statement. This is followed by Willie Dixon's "Dead Presidents". This provides a brief respite with its jumping rhythms and playful rhymes.
We are back to business with Howlin' Wolf's, "Commit a Crime" followed by Son House's "Grinnin in Your Face". Both interpreted in Ulmer style, power and fury. "There is Power in the Blues", Ulmer, one who is known to challenge the preconceived notion that the blues is a predetermined style, "uses the concept of the blues to feel our way around" with this song.
"Backwater Blues" is Ulmer's most traditional interpration of a classical blues number on the album. The CD closes out with "Old Slave Master", an Ulmer original that brings us back to the start.
Recognized as an elder statesman of the blues, Ulmer continues to define and redefine both himself and the brand of blues that he creates. Bad Blood In The City is a pivotal piece in that definition. As good as Birthright was, I think that Bad Blood In The City exceeds those heights.
There is a recording of James Blood Ulmer and Alison Krauss performing at Radio City Music Hall which shows the power in Ulmer's renditions. This can be found at YouTube.
"Bad Blood In The City" song listing
Survivors of the Hurricane
Sad Days, Lonely Nights
Let's Talk About Jesus
This Land is Nobody's Land
Commit A Crime
Grinnin' in Your Face
There is Power in the Blues
Old Slave Master