Bloodied; Unbowed

Balloons in the subway, New York, 1984 © Frank Horvat c/o galerie hiltawsky

James “Blood” Ulmero
Eye Level b/w Blues Don’t Fail Me Now
Rough Trade : 1984

JBU, guitar, vocals; Sean Oliver, bass; Bruce Smith, drums.

CJC: Ah, the Eighties.

DLD: Yep. This one was produced by Adrian Sherwood, who went on to produce recordings by Ministry and Cabaret Voltaire not long afterwards.

CLC: We’ve always said there should be more avant jazz singles. And Chuck Eddy has long maintained that James Blood Ulmer is a heavy metal artist. This makes a certain amount of sense, but it’s undercut by the recording’s weirdly polished sheen.

DLD: Whatever his production sins here, Sherwood can be forgiven for his involvement in the Pressure Sounds and On-U Sound labels. He’s responsible for a lot of great music, but I find it hard to hear past the “’80s stink” on this. Not enough guitar, either.

CLC: It’s definitely worthwhile for the growled vocals and scribbling guitar. The thumping 1980s groove is a museum piece now, but maybe it sounds better if you didn’t actually live through this period? I can almost imagine it anchoring a number of current hypnogogic pop tunes.

DLD: Could be. I also appreciate how this tune is hard to pin down, seamlessly bobbing and weaving between jazz, blues, funk, and rock.

CLC: That’s Blood at his best. It’s bizarre-but-appropriate that he was involved with the great post-punk label Rough Trade. This is coming just after his run at Columbia when he briefly seemed like a commercial prospect.

DLD: Yeah, kudos to Rough Trade for even releasing this single. Weirdly, the album that was released at the same time — and which shares cover design cues — is a live performance with a different band entirely.

CLC: And they don’t perform either of the tunes from the single.

DLD: So it’s not actually a single, then, is it?

CLD: Uh, no. The production seems to be angling it toward something more commercial than the music itself will comfortably support.

DLD: Agreed. Where have we heard that before…?

Discussion5 Comments Category James Blood Ulmer Tags , , , ,

5 Responses to Bloodied; Unbowed

  1. Boooo on the anti-80s tirade. Another 10 years and every producer is going to be comparing notes on which virtual Lexicon plug-in most accurately recreates that sound. Others will insist on a perfect emulation of the 12-bit converters in the Yamaha SPX-90.

    And there I’ll be with a mint CD copy of Wayne’s “Phantom Navigator” that everyone dissed and I won’t sell it to you.

  2. Fair enough, BG. Almost illustrated this post with that Yamaha, btw…

  3. I must say that Dout is looking very suave and sophisticated these days.

  4. I spent the ’80s being horrified by practically everything: the President, the movies, the hairstyles, the polo shirts with the collars turned up, and the whole thing was so traumatic that it was well into this century before I was able to appreciate any kind of “electronic dance music”… but, I’m thinking this might sound pretty decent with some huge speakers. Pure speculation, though.

  5. Interesting to see the link with Rip Rig and Panic (Gareth Sager, Sean Oliver Bruce Smith and Neneh Cherry) and The Pop Group (Bruce Smith) with their Bristolian take on Dub, Funk and avant jazz. RR&P of course had a guest spot from Don Cherry on their 2nd album. The Bristol scene and Sherwood were (and are) joined at the hip…The production is more akin to Sherwood’s Tackhead (Keith LeBlanc et al) work than his far better Dub and Reggae catalogue…. I agree with Godoggo, huge speakers would help… Thanks for posting

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