Guitarist/bandleader James Blood Ulmer first came to the attention of the music world via his sessions with Ornette Coleman and Rashied Ali. Since the early 80s, he’s been one of the mainstays of jazz’s vanguard, yet his chunky, lanky, rough-edged sound has never lost contact with the blues. (Ornette Coleman, though a saxophonist, seems to be a major inspiration, along with Jimi Hendrix.) Memphis: The Sun Sessions brings the blues sound front ‘n’ center, and a case could be made that this session is Ulmer’s tribute to a style of blues that’s almost extinct, recorded at a legendary studio where lots of that music was originally recorded. (For younger readers: in the 1950s. Memphis, TN’s Sun Studios was where much blues, country and rock & roll history was made: Howlin’ Wolf, Johnny Cash and the first recordings by a young truck driver name o’ Elvis something.) The Sun Studios are perfect for Ulmer’s project: a dozen (hackneyed, quite frankly) blues standards played in a raw, assured manner that doesn’t smooth-out the rough edges.... this set, point of fact, revels in the rough edges. Ulmer’s voice sounds like 10 miles a bad road - thick, throaty, kind of mush-mouthed, lacking in any sort of polish or sophistication but sounding REAL and honest as a cold December wind that you’re not dressed for or a pack porch that has nothing on it but a chair, you and a bottle of Jack Daniels. (Feel free to substitute the comforting beverage of your choice.) It’s not the tunes, but what Ulmer and his crew do with them - namely, without ever coming off as antiquated or too-too retro, they play these tunes not like they were standards, but like they were written last month or last year. The old Motown hit "Money" is transformed into a snaking John Lee Hooker-style lament as if the original by The Contours (or cover versions by The Beatles and a million others) never happened. High point: "I Asked For Water (She Gave Me Gasoline)" is transformed into an insistent, feverish, exorcize-all-demons mantra, sounding like Howlin’ Wolf fronting the White Light/White Heat-era Velvet Underground, recorded with all the needles on the recording equipment in the red zone. Ulmer’s band is suitably a lean and mean machine: guitar, keys, bass and drums with some sagacious touches of violin, mandolin and accordion - and many of the tunes here are first or second takes. I may be wrong, but the important thing is they have THAT SOUND: unfussy, direct, urgent, and spontaneous. It’s like Ulmer’s showing the world How It’s Done and at the same time telling the purveyors of slick beer-commercial blues to shove it.