James Blood Ulmer is perhaps better known for his jazz/funk guitar work, but on "Memphis Blood: The Sun Sessions" he returns to his blues roots with some style. The album was recorded over a three day period in April last year at the legendary Sun Studio in Memphis. They had to wait until the evenings before they could get to work, because of the status of the studio as a tourist attraction. Even though the "studio" is just a single room, there is a certain atmosphere that pervades the place which is heightened when you think about all the legends that have recorded there in the past.
"Memphis Blood..." is not going to score very highly in the originality stakes when it comes to the choice of material. No matter, though, because Ulmer scores very highly in the standards of musicianship. In company with a crack band, Ulmer gets things off to a great start with "Spoonful" where they establish a raw edge to the sound which they maintain throughout. For the most part the band remain pretty true to the spirit of the originals. The main exception is Son House's "Death Letter" which is underpinned by the excellent Aubrey Dayle on drums and features some appropriately sparse electric guitar.
Elsewhere there are excellent versions of "Little Red Rooster," "Fattening Frogs For Snakes" and "Double Trouble," as well as a heartfelt "Dimples"--the album is dedicated to John Lee Hooker. The version of "Evil" is also worthy of mention, sounding almost like it was recorded in a barrelhouse. In fact, there are no low points on the album, which makes for a hugely entertaining hour of blues entertainment. It just goes to show that with a little bit of thought and creativity you can successfully recycle the blues without having the listener reaching for the Stop button on the CD player.
James Blood Ulmer's "Memphis Blood: The Sun Sessions" is a great album which grows on you with each play. There is a spirit and presence about the band's delivery that injects a new vitality to the songs. Despite the album's title it is mostly Chicago blues, albeit recorded in Memphis and it does represent quite a big departure from Ulmer's more recent work. "Memphis Blood..." is well worth tracking down, although you may have to do a bit of legwork to do so, because there have been problems with distribution (in the UK at least), so try starting with the Label M web site (www.labelm.com).
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