BLUES DON’T FAIL ME NOW
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…?