I must have listened to Birthright 100 times since I got it a couple weeks ago. There's something really special about this album. Stripped down and laid bare before us, James Blood Ulmer has claimed the blues as his Birthright. I once read somewhere that he exemplifies "primordial blues" and I don't think I could have summed it up any better than that. The entire disc is nothing but Ulmer and his guitar. There’s also a flute solo in there at one point, but I’ll get to that later.
The first cut off the album is "Take My Music Back to the Church" and that's exactly what he does. He doesn't just take his music to church, he builds the church for us with through his music, then the man delivers an amazingly direct and riveting sermon on the history of the blues, life, and lessons learned along the way.
I'm gonna take my music back to the church
Where the blues was misunderstood,
Some people think that it's the song of the devil,
But it's the soul of the man for sure.
Not only does Ulmer touch on the misperception of the blues as a tool of evil, but he deftly illustrates his personal battle with the guilty joy of playing his music. This inner struggle is revisited several more times on the album, but the "Take My Music" fires such a powerful first shot, you know he's serious.
You only have to hear his bone-chilling wail to understand his pain. The cackle on “The Devil’s Got to Burn” is disturbing in that there’s a delicious sense of pleasure in Ulmer’s destruction of his demons. It’s uncomfortable, yet it’s also completely comforting because you realize that Ulmer’s not only faced his worst fears, he’s conquered them. His redemption is played out via the flute solo at the very end of the album. With the light and gentle notes from the flute, one can almost imagine the soft feathery wings of a dove caressing his battered soul. It’s his rebirth.