Friday, March 07, 2008



JAMES "BLOOD" ULMER - Black Rock LP (Columbia/1982)

The second of Ulmer's three LPs on Columbia from the early '80s, all of which stiffed amongst the general record-buying populace - would you expect anything else? - and had him dropped by the label soon thereafter. Still, three albums of avant-garde jazz-based guitar music on a major at the dawn of Reaganism ain't a bad effort. There musta been someone at Columbia who really loved the guy, so I'll thank someone for their persistance, patience and faith in the man when the rest of the A & R schlebs were probably too busy trying to scout out the next Toto to bother even knowing the guy existed. Like his other albums from the period - starting w/ 1980's Are You Glad To Be In America? and finishing w/ '83's Odyssey - this has some vocals from Mr. "Blood", and the man possesses a set of pipes much like the oft-compared Mr. Hendrix. Frankly, I wouldn' take that as too much of a compliment. Much as I love both for their guitar-wrangling skills, I've always held the opinion that Jimi mighta been better off handing the microphone over to someone else, if you get the drift (and if you don't, I'm sorry, but I just can't dumb it down any further). Still, the two or three vocal tracks here are pretty OK, and the instrumental stuff is fairly white-hot all across the board.

's funny that Ulmer's pioneering work (from Tales Of Captain Black [a disc which shoulda been listed in my Top 100 Albums hoo-ha from last year] right on through to Odyssey) doesn't get the kudos from the hipsters it surely should. Not that you don't still hear his name bandied about, coz just about anyone from James Chance through to the Minutemen right up to the latest hype-of-the-moment NYC punk-funksters who are way too young and beautiful for a crotchety old fogey like myself to care less about owe the man a debt. I can only lay blame to his continuing semi-obscurity on the fact that most of his best albums (in fact all of them, I think) from this period remain either out of print or only available as expensive Japanese imports.

The "funk" levels on the bass throughout Black Rock are pushed up pretty high, sometimes intruding on a good time, though mostly this is just the type of convoluted, harmelodic punk/funk/jazz I'll gladly lay a claim on, the bulk of it striking a mighty blow like a missing link twixt Get Up With It and Trout Mask Replica. I ain't going near the corporate legalities and paperwork that a reissue of these things would require w/ a 60-foot pole, though a wise, thoughtful and forward-thinking American should step on in and get Tales Of Captain Black, Are You Glad To Be In America?, Free Lancing, Odyssey and this back into the hearts, minds and malls of the land on shiny silver plastic 'n' metal. I can't imagine such a pursuit not being worthy.

2 comments:

Mrow said...

I remember being flummoxed by the funkimonic convolutions on this record, and always preferred the easier-on-the-ears gospel skronk of Odyssey. Though that was 15 years ago. I'll now have to give it another go.

BTW, James did a great, reinventive cover of Kimbrough's "Sad Days, Lonely Nights" on his recent Bad Blood in the City CD that I'm sure you'd dig.

Dave said...

Folks tell me that Ulmer's new "blues" phase is in fact really hot, so I'll be keen to check out the Kimbrough cover. Thanks for the heads-up!