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October 2003

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James Blood Ulmer
No Escape From The Blues (The Electric Lady Sessions)
  Hyena Records

James Blood UlmerOne of the highlights of the last few years in the Blues world was James Blood Ulmer’s collaboration with former Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid. The 2001 album, recorded at Memphis’ Sun Studios was a modern look at some blues classics of the past. Ulmer proved to be a great blues guitarist and a capable singer and his band, featuring Reid, David Barnes on harmonica, and Charlie Burnham on electric fiddle, was amazing.

Ulmer’s follow-up, No Escape From The Blues (The Electric Lady Sessions) on Hyena Records, takes place, as you might have figured, at Electric Lady studios in New York City, Jimi Hendrix’s old stomping grounds. This session is a bit more eclectic than the Memphis sessions, somewhat reminiscent of those Hendrix records, but just as strong.

The set list is made up of some familiar tunes, including a couple of Jimmy Reed songs (“Goin’ to New York,” with Reid on electric banjo, and “Bright Lights, Big City,” with Olu Dara on pocket trumpet), Howlin’ Wolf (a subdued version of “Who’s Been Talkin’,” not one of the disc’s better moments), Johnny Clyde Copeland (a spooky “Ghetto Child”), and even a couple of Muddy Waters covers (the title track and “Blues Had A Baby”).

Ulmer also reprises a couple of his own songs, including “Are You Glad To Be In America.”

The highlight of the disc is a rousing cover of Earl King’s “Come On (Let the Good Times Roll),” also memorably covered by Hendrix many years ago. Ulmer dedicates the album to the recently departed King.

The band is the same as on the Memphis session and they do outstanding work once again. Ulmer even plays acoustic guitar on some tracks, which as far as I know a first for him. Some added attractions this time around include Queen Esther, who lends soulful vocals to three tracks, including John Lee Hooker’s “You Know, I Know,” and Maya Smullyan Jenkins, who has a tap dancing solo on “Bright Lights.” I told you it was eclectic.

It looks like James Blood Ulmer, always looking for new challenges, is going to settle into the blues for awhile, which bodes well for the music’s immediate future.

--- Graham Clarke

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