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…?

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