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Memphis Blood: The Sun Sessions

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Barnes & Noble - Roberta Penn
Raised in a religious family in rural South Carolina, guitarist James "Blood" Ulmer buried his down-home gospel roots when he joined Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time in the mid-‘70s. He then went on to forge his own blend of rock and "harmolodics" on the avant-garde scene over the next three decades. Ulmer always kept the blues on the back burner of his scorching free playing and dabbled more deeply in the genre on the 1992 release Blues Preacher. But few could have imagined Ulmer coming up with the straight-ahead blues of Memphis Blood, which was produced by black rocker Vernon Reid, who also plays guitar on the set. Dedicating the album to the memory of John Lee Hooker, ...
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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Roberta Penn
Raised in a religious family in rural South Carolina, guitarist James "Blood" Ulmer buried his down-home gospel roots when he joined Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time in the mid-‘70s. He then went on to forge his own blend of rock and "harmolodics" on the avant-garde scene over the next three decades. Ulmer always kept the blues on the back burner of his scorching free playing and dabbled more deeply in the genre on the 1992 release Blues Preacher. But few could have imagined Ulmer coming up with the straight-ahead blues of Memphis Blood, which was produced by black rocker Vernon Reid, who also plays guitar on the set. Dedicating the album to the memory of John Lee Hooker, Ulmer covers the King of Boogie’s “Dimples” in the loose style associated with the original. And on “Money,” Ulmer’s vocals sound almost exactly like Hooker’s. But this project isn’t so much about emulating Hooker as about reclamation; Ulmer and longtime associates bassist Mark Peterson and drummer Aubrey Dayle take early electric blues back from the pat versions that have come to fill barroom set lists, regenerating the music with the sense of freedom that made Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Otis Rush so thrilling in the ‘50s. Ulmer's guitar has all the wide-open lust of Jimi Hendrix’s playing on “I Just Want to Make Love to You.” For “Spoonful” the guitar licks the fringes of free playing, while it crows in the background on “Little Red Rooster.” Rush’s “Double Trouble” is made bittersweet by Charles Burnham’s violin and Rick Steff’s keyboards. And all the wild playing coming out of the Delta today is turned on its ear with Ulmer’s version of the Wolf’s “I Asked for Water (She Gave Me Gasoline),” a droning, howling foray into psychedelia. The songs are all familiar, tunes from the big blues songbook, but never have they been done quite like this. Memphis Blood runs rampant over preconceptions about the blues. It’s the kind of recording that Ulmer has come to be known for, and he’s still in fighting form.
All Music Guide - Thom Jurek
Over three days in April 2001, James "Blood" Ulmer and producer/guitarist Vernon Reid yes, of Living Colour fame went into the legendary Sun Studios in Memphis and kicked out some of the greasiest, knottiest, most surreal blues music ever. The blues have always been part of Ulmer's iconography, even when deeply entrenched in the harmolodic theory he helped to develop with Ornette Coleman. Over the years on his albums for DIW, Ulmer has with mixed results attempted to dig into the blues wholesale, but until now, with the aid of Vernon Reid and a cast of stellar if not well-known musicians, Blood hasn't been able to indulge his obsession to the hilt. All 14 songs on Memphis Blood are covers, many of them blues classics from the canon, with a few from Ulmer's own shrine book. The set opens with Willie Dixon's "Spoonful." There's a trace about 12 notes coming from the harmolodic E to the fore before Reid and Ulmer kick it in with harmonica player David Barnes, whose blowing in this album is so meaty, tough, and oily that he must have learned how to play in a Memphis rib joint. Also getting down into the pit of the blue-black mass is Ulmer's running partner, violinist Charles Burnham, who puts a wah-wah on his axe in "Little Red Rooster." Burnham reveals that there is more than swing to blues violin chops; he could have taught Sugarcane Harris or Papa John Creach plenty. Burnham's sense of dynamic and timing is phenomenal, as he underlines each line of Ulmer's lyric with a phrase that moans and snakes as the singer wails. On Otis Rush's "Double Trouble," Reid gets his turn to shine, and he does explosively, but in the vernacular. He doesn't give us his standard thousand-note run, but instead blistering attacks on the minor-key side of the tune; he's all edges and cutting, spitting notes and fury. As for Ulmer, he's never sounded more at home in his role as singer and guitarist, funking it up just enough with those edgy chords and strangled, single-note runs. He allows Reid to run the musical proceedings and settles in to front the band. The music, as a result, is fiery, loose, and full of drunkenly spirited, explosive delight. It's a careening, side-railed music that tells a story only insofar as these cats are all imagining their own stories while playing in this studio, which has housed every great they play tunes by. As tired as the blues genre is, Memphis Blood is a fresh injection of blues truth; this is Saturday night drink, dance, and sex music. This is the music to do stuff by that you're gonna have to repent for on Sunday morning without pose, primp, or preen. If any man or woman doubts that this is the blues album of 2001, let her or him listen no further than John Lee Hooker's "Dimples," and then shake 'em on down. Ulmer delivers here, big time.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 4/22/2003
  • Label: Sin-Drome Records
  • UPC: 825005931025
  • Catalog Number: 9310

Album Credits

Performance Credits
James Blood Ulmer Primary Artist, Guitar, Vocals
David Barnes Harmonica
Charlie Burnham Electric Violin, Slide Mandolin
Vernon Reid Guitar
Aubrey Dayle Drums
Rick Steff Piano, Accordion, Hammond Organ, Wurlitzer
Mark Peterson Bass
Technical Credits
Son House Composer
Gene Paul Mastering
Vernon Reid Producer
Dave Brubaker Art Direction
James Lott Engineer
Kevin Calabro Executive Producer
Chester Burnett Composer
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