James Blood Ulmer

James Blood Ulmer plays electric guitar like he’s making a fire from scratch. Notes are whittled workmanlike until you can almost hear the grain of string in his vibrato. Recorded over three nights in April 2001 at the legendary Sun Studio in Memphis, Tenn., this album marks the return of Ulmer—known primarily as an avant-garde jazz/funk artist from the ‘70s—to his rural South Carolina roots in authentic blues. It took producer Vernon Reid three years to convince him to face stories from his past, but the results are worth it.

Backed by his regular rhythm section of drummer Aubrey Dale and bassist Mark Peterson, as well as guest spots from harmonica player David Barnes, local session man Rick Steff (organ, Wurlitzer, accordion) and Charles Burnham on electric violin and mandolin, Ulmer attacks a host of blues classics head-on in his usual gritty fashion. With his deep, granular voice, Ulmer covers "Little Red Rooster," the foreboding Otis Rush classic "Double Trouble," several John Lee Hooker numbers, a rollicking version of "Spoonful" and an evocative rendition of Son House’s "Death Letter." He closes with Dixon’s "Back Door Man."