The first album by the James Blood Ulmer and Bill Laswell collaboration Third Rail is a sometimes confusing mishmash of styles; however, given the title, it appears that the juxtaposition of dirty blues-based grooves and spacey psychedelic jazz-funk is entirely intentional. Whether or not the combination is entirely satisfying is up to the listener, but while the album occasionally seems to have more ideas than it knows what to do with, most of them do work.
These nine lengthy tracks (all four to eight minutes) aren't geared towards soloing - a shame since the group includes, besides Ulmer and Laswell, includes drummer Joseph Modeliste, keyboardist Bernie Worrell (who sticks to Hammond B-3 organ and funky '70s-style clavinet) and secondary singer and keyboardist Amina Claudine Myers - but collective grooves and Ulmer's bluesy vocals. The Hendrix-like rocker "First Blood" and the trance-like opener "Dusted" are the dual high points, but the album's only real flaw is Ulmer's lyrics, which prove that as a wordsmith, he's an excellent guitarist. (The mindless, repetitive "Funk All Night" is by far the worst offender.) Those looking for hair-raising soloing will likely be disappointed, but anyone interested in collective improvisation and soulful rock-influenced jazz will be interested.