In 2005, the legendary elder statesman of the blues, James "Blood" Ulmer released his first ever solo recording Birthright. The album, which features the artist alone on guitar and vocals, was quickly embraced by every music publication including Downbeat, Guitar Player, Jazz Times and Rolling Stone. Newspapers such as the Chicago Sun Times and the Washington Post declared it to be one of the most important blues records of the year.
Then, in DownBeat Magazine’s 70th Annual reader’s poll, Birthright was declared 2005’s “Blues Album of the year”. This poll is based solely on the votes by the readers of DownBeat Magazine. According to DownBeat, “it’s a well-deserved honor for an artist whose music has undergoing a creative renaissance and commercial rediscovery in recent years.”
What is incredible to me is the stark punch this album has. It is both smooth and jagged. It is as harsh as a desert wind and as well worn the Grand Canyon is deep. This is the blues from the core. This is Robert Johnson, Blind Willie and Otis Taylor. This is blues at its finest.
James “Blood” Ulmer was born in St. Mathews, South Carolina in 1942 and began his career playing soul jazz in 1969. In 1971 he moved to New York and began playing with the likes of Art Blakey, Joe Henderson and Paul Bley. He then joined with Ornette Coleman and was the first electric guitarist to perform with Coleman. At one time Ulmer was listed as heir apparent to Jimi Hendrix because of the originality of his guitar work.
Birthright is modern album of ancient blues. It is a very original album. All but two of the songs are written by Ulmer. It is soul that vibrates from every utterance of his distinct guitar work that makes it so unique, so real. It is done in the same manner that artists of old expressed their work; through the people and places that made them who they are. It is also because these recording’s were completed in one or two takes that give them their primeval sound.