Ulmer tips his hat to New Orleans with R&B, funk and gospel-tinged tunes.
Guitarist James "Blood" Ulmer is a strange duck. Though he started out in jazz organ combos, Ulmer made his rep with avant-jazz icon Ornette Coleman in the latter's ebullient "harmolodic" period. Then in the mid-1980s, Ulmer began upping the ubiquitous blues elements of his playing and singing, until he mastered the techniques of scorching electric blues. His last three albums spotlighted the various playing styles of specific regions (Memphis, Chicago and acoustic Delta), but Bad Blood in the City finds Ulmer expanding his palette and tipping his hat to the hard-hit city of New Orleans. There's some soulfully yearning R&B balladry here, à la Tony Joe White, on songs like "Backwater Blues" and "Katrina." And with its obvious gospel feel, the rousing "Let's Talk About Jesus" could be a Stax-era Staples Singers chestnut. But fires rage on this album as well, as on the scathing yet funky "Survivors of the Hurricane," the endless boogie of "Sad Days, Lonely Nights" and the tantalizing John Lee Hooker-style slow-burner "This Land Is Nobody's Land," with African percussion echoing deep in the background. Only five of the 11 tunes on the album are originals, but when Ulmer borrows material, he makes it his own. He sings as if 20 miles of bad road lie ahead, and Vernon Reid's raw production gives this new disc an eerie, moonless-after-midnight ambiance.