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Published: 2003/10/29
by Jamie Lee

No Escape From The Blues: The Electric Lady Sessions – James Blood Ulmer

Hyena Records 9312

When Vernon Reid took James Blood Ulmer into a Memphis studio in 2001, he
tapped into a flowing river of the blues. Ulmer, a man whose music career
has meandered through a jazz-inflected route, took to that first album – Memphis Blood – with gusto, drawing a Grammy nomination in the
Blues Recording of the Year" category. Now, with his new album, No Escape
from the Blues, Ulmer reaffirms his strength as a bluesman in a
that shatters all perceptions of contemporary blues.

Taking the South out of a southerner is just about as difficult as taking
the blues out of a guitarist brought to the instrument by a front-porch
bluesmen in South Carolina. Ulmer might have lived the better part of his
life in New York City with a propensity for free jazz, but the southern-born
guitarist who was taught that blues music is evil clearly didn't listen.

Over the course of No Escape from the Blues, Blood – accompanied by
Reid on
guitar and other stringed instruments, bassist Mark Peterson and drummer
Aubrey Dayle – pumps out a host of immaculate cover songs, ranging from
Howlin' Wolf to Earl King, and tops them off with two originals performed
solo. Each composition is bolstered by Blood's guitar mastery and gruff,
soulful voice. He floats effortlessly from persona to persona, songwriter to
songwriter with a genuine reverence for the history of these tunes. The one
uniting aspect of the songs and of Ulmer's story is the journey of the
southland blues to the big cities above the Mason Dixon, a journey that
Ulmer took, only to return to his roots with the help of Reid.

Johnny Copeland's "Ghetto Child" resonates with an impeccably pained vocal
performance by Ulmer. Propelled by his complimentary guitar work and lifted
by the swirling organ accents by Leon Gruenbaums, the tune stands as the
most expressive of the album. A take on "You Know I Know," a John Lee Hooker
composition, Ulmer trades vocals with Queen Esther with a convincingly
conversational approach over a swinging back beat. The album-closing "The
Blues Had a Baby and Called it Rock and Roll" may have been written by Muddy
Waters, but Ulmer makes the song his own, and in the context of No Escape
from the Blues, the track forms a rocking closer for a journey through

The two Ulmer originals that adorn the album – "Are You Glad to be in
America" and "Satisfy (Story of My Life)" – shine in the midst of the
songs that surround them, proving that Ulmer's songwriting prowess is no
fluke. His expressive moans on "America" and introspective lyricism of
"Satisfy" harken to Ulmer's musical travels from the Harmolodic school of
Ornette Coleman back to those unbreakable blues.

It only takes one listen to prove that there is No Escape from the
Whether taking a spin on a blues standard or weaving a tale of his own,
Ulmer's fret work and thick vocals are nothing short of classic. Ulmer may
have left the blues behind when he moved north decades ago, but his journey
reaffirms the title of this album with ease. Ulmer couldn't run from the
blues because he has lived them.

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