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In The City – The Piety Street Sessions by James Blood Ulmer

Following up his brilliant and critically-acclaimed 2005 solo acoustic guitar/vocals blues CD Birthright, James Blood Ulmer returns with a rollicking electric ensemble, produced by guitar hero Vernon Reid. With songs about the desolate circumstances surrounding the aftermath of hurricane Katrina and more, this album was recorded at Piety Street Studio in New Orleans.

Originally recognized for his Ornette Coleman influenced harmolodic guitar voicings, Ulmer has spiraled into one of the world’s most inspiring blues denizens. His gruff, down-home vocals and his penchant for injecting a bit of vibrato to reaffirm a lyric or two, rides atop these foot-stomping and electrifying works.

Reid contributes some sizzling e-guitar licks while Ulmer primarily handles the rhythmic element in concordance with Leon Gruenbaum’s bluesy progressions and David Barnes’ radiant blues-harp treatments. On the crawling, Delta blues style piece titled "Katrina," Ulmer sings about the hurricane-induced mass exodus from New Orleans atop Gruenbaum’s swirling piano lines. Here and in other spots, it’s all about blues with a feeling. Ulmer captures a mood that might intimate a typical hot and sweaty day in the Big Easy underscored by remiss and lament. However, the preponderance of this outing is upbeat, whereas the leader injects some humor into the program on the lighthearted romp "Dead Presidents," for example.

Ulmer’s longtime associate, violinist/mandolinist Charles Burnham, imparts an organic vibe on the country-blues composition "Grinnin’ In Your Face." And the band finalizes this multifaceted set with the good-timey, boogie-rock number "Old Slave Master," featuring Reid’s hyper-mode solo. In sum, Ulmer’s signature persona once again ingratiates and more importantly uplifts the tried and true into a very special program. His stature within the canon of American music cannot be undermined.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: James Blood Ulmer
  • CD Title: In The City – The Piety Street Sessions
  • Genre: Blues
  • Year Released: 2007
  • Record Label: Hyena Records
  • Rating: Four Stars
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