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December 05

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James Blood Ulmer
Birthright
Hyena Records

Once upon a time, legend has it that a man named Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil to play the guitar. The unasked question is, of course, why? After all, who would ask for eternal damnation just so they could play the blues? Well, if you want the truth, go ask James Blood Ulmer.

For most musicians, playing is just part of the job: If you make enough money, you don’t have to work, as long as you’re willing to sell whatever you got. But for some, the music isn’t always about a handful of cash, or even the fame and the women. For a few, like Mr. Johnson and the man many consider his heir, Mr. Ulmer, the music is a way to balance between the devil and the church, between their own personal damnation and salvation in a battle that can never end until you’re six feet under.

Already having a suitcase full of accolades from his previous albums, Ulmer has stripped everything down to only his single guitar and vocals, and the result is simply astounding. Starting with “Take My Music Back to The Church” and ending with “The Devil’s Got to Burn”, the twelve tracks of Birthright are a searing, smoldering powerhouse of blues and jazz that grabs the devil by the tail and won’t let go. Ulmer’s unique blend of guitar styles is a tour de force of sounds, often bending and blurring the lines between traditional blues and modern free-form jazz. His voice is at once a growl and a moan, singing of both defiance and repentance in an almost hypnotic manor.

Produced by Vernon Reid (who blessedly and correctly keeps this stripped down to the rawest basics), Birthright is one of the finest examples of a great blues artist in his prime that can be found today…and makes you wonder if Mr. Ulmer himself ever spent any time standing at a crossroad. www.hyenarecords.comBrandon Whitehead (posted 12/23/05)



Vigalantee
No Jaangle Movement
Phatadat Records

While most of the rap world continues to wallow in misogynistic lyrics and racist attitudes (see, every black rapper, like, say 50 Cent, who celebrates lowering his own people into pointless violence, drug dealing and smackin’ ho’s around does more harm than the KKK ever did, dig?), KC local hip-hop and rap artist Vigalantee masterfully shows what is best in one of the most original, vibrant and truly American forms of music ever created.

The breakout 18 tracks on No Jaangle (which is street for “Never compromise, not being ignorant, and respecting others”) are a flowing and elegant mix of straight rap, R & B and hip hop that takes off from the beat-box beats of the first track “Zipitee Do”, and just gets better from there. With help from V.O.W. and Shadow, Roger Suggs, a k a Vigalantee weaves tales of the street with both humor and sorrow, and with crystal-clear lyrics that compel while still flowing with simple melodies and back up beats.

Recorded at Dan Smith Studios and mastered at West End Studio in KCK, the quality here is superb (probably without costing a couple million bucks, either), enhancing, without undercutting, the artist…as it should be.

Don’t get it wrong: this isn’t mushy pop or preachy “respect” hip-hop. There is more than enough of a hard edge here, as well as plenty of infectious club vibes to get the ladies dancin’.

In a world where most rap artists need a criminal record more than any talent or ability (say, like, oh, 50 Cent…), No Jaangle is an exceptional reminder of what rap and hip-hop could be — music of a people that can shine at the worst of times and bring light into the lost souls of the street. www.cornerband.comBrandon Whitehead (posted 12/02/05)



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