James Blood Ulmer:Bad Blood In The City

By: Jake Krolick

Mother Nature can be a coldhearted woman. James Blood Ulmer‘s new release, Bad Blood In The City: The Piety Street Sessions (Hyena), recounts the woe and frustration felt in the hearts of millions affected by Hurricane Katrina. The album appears almost two years after New Orleans was devastated. Producer Vernon Reid (Living Colour) has remarked that this album is one small way to prevent the tragedy from fading to black. Ulmer wrote the majority of the record while watching CNN in the days following the Hurricane. He describes the emotions and the story of Katrina through the eyes of the blues, using the classic metaphor of a woman who has broken his heart.

With the help of the talented Memphis Blood Blues Band, the album delves into the pain the hurricane caused. The song “Survivors of the Hurricane” uses deep, twangy, funky blues to give an honest portrayal of events. Reed’s guitar screams, “Thank god I’m alive.” Through “Katrina,” Ulmer rips your heart open with his warbling, soulful vocals. After Ulmer examines his pain, he looks for answers, and the first place he looks is to Jesus. Irene Datcher‘s back-up vocals carry Ulmer back to his childhood playing gospel in the church. Together, the two blend the best of religion and music to question the worst of situations.

Ulmer rounds out his original material with covers that further dig into the questions the storm raised about race, crime, poverty and government. John Lee Hooker‘s lyrics in “This Land Is Nobody”s Land” ring true as a statement on societal concepts of possession. Aubry Dale‘s percussive touches fill the holes that Ulmer’s voice leaves as he explains how Mother Nature merely rents us space but she is the true owner. Willy Dixon’s “Dead Presidents” interjects a bit of humor on this somber album. Harp player David Barnes rips notes that smack the face of the wealthy, questioning “Is money the solution or the problem?”

Ulmer wraps up Bad Blood in the City with the cynical original “Old Slave Master,” where the blues are examined in a modern light, a disaster’s aftermath given rhythm and lyrics that mock the many snafus:

They told the police
Brought in the National Guard
New Orleans it took the hard way to do the job
Oh Slave Master what took you so long?

The instrumentation across the entire album is thick and layered. The dynamic approach taken by Ulmer and the band’s individual talents work seamlessly to grab more than just your ears – they also capture your heart.

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