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James Blood Ulmer: Birthright

James Blood Ulmer: Birthright

Release Date:2005

James Blood Ulmer plays An die Musik Sept. 10

By Sam Prestianni | Posted 9/7/2005

Six-string slinger James Blood Ulmer is a 21st-century blues heretic. On his riveting new solo album, Birthright, he argues that the black country music born in the Mississippi Delta in the early years of the 20th century has long been misrepresented by musicians and critics and, thus, misunderstood by audiences. The 63-year-old South Carolina native aims to right these wrongs. As he testifies, John Lee Hooker-style, on “Take My Music Back to the Church”: “Some people think that it was the song of the devil/ but it was the soul of the man, for sure/ and religion make a poor man lose his soul.”

While mainstream blues enthusiasts and the Christian faithful may consider such words blasphemy, others will welcome Ulmer’s fresh take on an often predictable form. He upends the genre’s bad-boy mythology of souls sold to the devil by righteously sticking it directly to Beelzebub on the “The Evil One,” a hard-picked groove tune. On “Devil’s Got to Burn,” a high-drama of crashing chords, his tongue-in-cheek laughter on the chorus is like hot breath against the speakers.

Ulmer further bends the rules by bringing the freestyle power of his avant-garde jazz roots to old-school favorites (“I Ain’t Superstitious,” “Sittin’ on Top of the World”) and beautifully warped, original instrumentals (“High Yellow,” “Love Dance Rag”). Birthright is a concept piece that re-imagines the blues as a force for positivity, born from the soul of a free man to channel as he desires.

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