James Blood Ulmer, Birthright

Andy Beta

By Andy Beta

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
Songs that could come from the loneliest place on earth

"Take my music back to the church," guitarist Ulmer threatens with a slight tremor, and it's both opening title and operating dogma on Birthright. On this side of the 21st century, Ulmer sees how this secular devil music (a.k.a. the blues) has taken on its own holy fire and reduces it down to its ember essence with nuance and reverence. His reading of "I Ain't Superstitious" trembles until it hums, and "Sittin 'on Top of the World" sounds like it might be the loneliest place on earth. Not content to capitulate roots music, Ulmer sings of his own blood on "Geechee Joe," singing of his numbers-running grandfather and all of his faults. For "High Yellow," he makes his guitar cluck and scratch intermittently like a yard bird, suggesting a middle ground between Buddy Guy and Derek Bailey. A solo outing by a master player, Birthright is the sound of an elder at the peak of his powers, a late-night simmering and summoning of the blues in a single spoonful.