Thursday, October 20, 2005

James "Blood" Ulmer has been playing music for more than 40 years. He achieved moderate success as an avant-garde jazz guitarist, cutting records for small labels that few people heard. Then he met Vernon Reid, formerly the guitarist for Living Colour. Reid took the reins as producer and decided to push Blood in a different direction. He hired a band, and Blood recorded his first-ever blues record.

That was two years ago. The record sold well, and they released a sequel. These discs redefined Blood's identity: No longer a second-tier jazz guitarist, he now stood among the preeminent blues musicians. It was as if Reid had discovered what Blood was supposed to be doing all along. And then they took a new tack: They dropped the band and recorded a third album, Birthright, with just Blood and his guitar.

I promise you, Birthright will appear on every serious critic's Top 10 list for 2005. It's more than simply a good album; it's an original statement, and a record that has already had a seismic impact upon its genre. The truth is, great blues albums are like white lobsters. They're incredibly rare in a genre where mediocrity has become the rule, even from legends like Buddy Guy and B.B. King. But with Birthright, Blood Ulmer turned the thing on its head. He didn't set a new standard; more accurately, he exhumed the old standard. It's a landmark album. And it's fucking great.


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