Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Odyssey the Band

  • Reunion [Knitting Factory, 1998] A-
  • Back in Time [Pi, 2005] A-

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Reunion [Knitting Factory, 1998]
In which James Blood Ulmer's greatest album is mined for the originality of its band concept, with Charlie Burnham the strong alternate lead the leader needs. Intimations of hoedown notwithstanding, "fiddler" doesn't capture Burnham any better than "violinist"--gypsy riffs bent by blues intonation, blues drones textured with saxophone growl. As for that lowdown meld of giro scrape, jew's-harp thwong, and two balloons rubbing together, I assume it's Blood, who is also the straightforward vocalist and melodist on a record that starts atmospheric, turns songful, and ropes you in with a sound either way. A-

Back in Time [Pi, 2005]
The 1983 classic that gave this Blood Ulmer trio its name has diminished slightly with the years, in part because the glorious jazz-rock future it portended never came to pass. Two decades on, Ulmer is the artiest of all Delta blues imitators, Charles Burnham a fiddler for hire, and Warren Benbow a pensive drummer even on the fast ones. So the beauties of their middle-aged reunion are atmospheric rather than fiery. A-