James Blood Ulmer
Are You Glad to be in America Today
Chatting with Lamontpaul on the delight of old sounds discovered for the first time, and youthful favourites, overlooked, rediscovered with today’s ears, we’ve all done it. Records at the back collection, tucked out of sight in the garage, overlooked, forgotten. Reflecting on brief words, one record crawled through a haze of memories. Fished-for, found and landed, floundering on the floor. “What is that?” Bought? No idea when, a good review at the time? No idea; a mates recommendation? Don’t recall. Looking at the cover, no clues as to the music, sounds, or styles.
So there it was, a vinyl Long Player, the Artist James ‘Blood’ Ulmer, bought in expectation of what, some bizarre ‘Punk, Soul, Blues’ mished, bashed, mashed-up, sounds, at a time when cross over, and fused sounds were a bit of a rarity. So here it is, an album I bought, and have no memory at all.
Are You Glad to be in America Today; recorded, 17/1/1980, in New York , released same year record number, Rough Trade 16. Rough Trade, UK new wave label, a clue, sleeve notes, minimal.
First up the whole album, recorded in one day, now that is unusual, even then, James Ulmer on Guitar, TWO drummers, horn section, and bass. So what to expect, no vocals, so it looks like a punk funk platter, throbbing beats, and pumping horns, fingers crossed, stylus hits the groove...
Layout... Wow, what an opener, guitar sounds almost straight of the raw 70s funk, crossed with 70s psychedelic soul. This is rhythm driven, with huge dollops of avant garde, almost free jazz, Ornette Coleman, or Pharoah Sanders would be proud to have played on this The tempo steps up a gear on Pressure and into the stop-start of Interview wailing horns, divergent, discordant, and captivatingly disjointed. A fast fingers James weaves in out up, and around the horns. Skipping between the twin drums - themselves an anchor in the shattered pattern of sounds, keep the melody tight, restraining the exploding horns to within touching distance, this is out there music.
“Jazz is the teacher, Funk is the Preacher”, vocals yell and growl, and strangled shouts, the horns pump straight from the early funk sounds that drove Earth Wind and Fire, and the more funky Jazz bands. This all with the power of a well rehearsed, top of the game band, skipping and dancing around a theme. Fast almost lead instrument bass lines move forms, changing shapes, keeping it tight. Almost fighting James’s funking, semi-trad lines. This is really a real rediscovery for me, there’s leads, calls, responses, as the drums lead and wave around a tune.
Last track side one, See Through, follows through, a slower pace, think dropping from 120mph to 100mph, slower, but still suicidal speed, this is power funk, souped up, sped up, frantic, and frenetic. The sax powers this final side 1 track to a sudden stop, and after all this speed, the band must be exhausted.
Phew, after a short rest for my ears, it's time to get ready for more. Time Out, starts side two of the album - it’s not a breather, it is more of the same, horns ablaze, like a ten alarm fire, bass pumps with impunity, no one's reigning it in. On the Corner meets Live Evil. Each player races, chasing, leading, fighting to the front, then overwhelmed, as the music pummels them, and the listener onto the mat.
A breather, as TV Blues slinks in, a slow swaggering slinking sleazy street walking strut, a "Hey man challenge me if you can," This has cool, the easy walking bass lines, the neighbourhood calls of the horns. Late night bars, street lights flickers through an east river mist this is late night street life in sound.
Are you glad to be in America ends the record with another vocal track. The words here spliced, sliced, cut in the mix in a glorious celebration. The soul of avant-garde sounds clash, it's too fast for tired, old, flat feet even young feet, would struggle here.
One a note of realism it’s unlikely Are You Glad to be in America Today will be found in Charity shops, or second hand shops, who would give it up? Discogs or Ebay and those kind of prices but it’s pretty damned good, and compares pretty well say to todays maybe gonzo performers like Yves Tumor, and just the right side of Albert Ayler, who really was in another place, AND somewhere in an alternate space.