Memphis Blood: The Sun Sessions
Guitarist James "Blood" Ulmer has flirted with his own unique brand of harmolodic blues-rock over the years in various configurations, which he documented on discs like Blues All Night (1989, In + Out) and Blues Preacher (1992, DIW/Columbia). But never before has Blood dealt with the blues in such a raw, straight-on manner as he does on Memphis Blood: The Sun Sessions (Label M 5728; 59:25). The brainchild of guitarist-producer Vernon Reid, this one takes Ulmer back to his rural South Carolina roots in a program of gritty urban and country blues by the likes of John Lee Hooker ("Dimples," "Money"), Willie Dixon ("Little Red Rooster," "Spoonful," "I Want to Be Loved," "I Just Want to Make Love to You," "I Love the Life I Live," "Back Door Man"), Howlin' Wolf ("I Asked for Water (She Gave Me Gasoline)," Sonny Boy Williamson ("Fattening Frogs for Snakes"), Son House ("Death Letter"), Otis Rush ("Double Trouble") and Muddy Waters ("Evil"). Delivered in Blood's signature vocal rasp with a minimum of piercing guitar solos along the way, these updated renditions of blues classics fit neatly into the Fat Possum school of grunge-blues that is currently finding favor with alternative-rock audiences.
Recorded at hallowed Sun Studios in Memphis, ringleader Reid lays down tracks in the company of Blood's regular rhythm section of drummer Aubrey Dayle and bassist Mark Peterson. Ulmer's longtime associate violinist Charles Burnham adds a raunchy Sugarcane Harris quality on "I Want to Be Loved" and on an appropriately lazy reading of "Little Red Rooster." Ulmer even engages in some countrified Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown-style chicken-picking on that down-home number. Burnham's electrified violin work is particularly striking on a grungy, Frank Zappa-style updating of "I Just Want to Make Love to You" and on a harrowing, trancelike take on "I Asked for Water (She Gave Me Gasoline)," a metalesque manifesto of distortion-laced guitar fantasia that is bound to scare away blues purists and thrill that same alternative-rock crowd that grooved to Buddy Guy's latest grunge-soaked blues offering, Sweet Tea. Burnham also lends a playful Joe Venuti-esque touch on the jaunty swing-era ditty "Too Lazy to Work, Too Nervous to Steal," and harmonica ace David Barnes offers effective country-blues honking throughout. But at the eye of this hurricane is Blood, who is revealed here by Reid as a bluesman to the bone.