Over the summer months I often seem to find myself driving in the car late at night to pick up one of my teenaged sons – usually from a house party in the wee hours. My eldest son considers himself a co-pilot of sorts and as soon as he gets in the car immediately sets about changing the radio station, finding a more suitable cd, adjusting the seat etc. So it was significant (and can I say, gratifying) the other week when I picked him up and he sat in rapt silence listening to what was already on.
What-Was-Already-On was a live concert I had happened across just by chance on a late night blues request show which was featuring the astounding talent of Shemekia Copeland.
It was a hot, sultry night as we drove along, no one else on the road and that heavy, humid night air (always carrying the smell of fast food from somewhere) coming in through the open windows. And we were just transfixed. When we got home we sat in the driveway still listening till the concert was over! My son then turned to me and said with typical understatement: “Whoa. She’s good.”
And I would have to concur with that …
The still young Shemekia Copeland comes from a blues background being the daughter of the late Johnny ‘Clyde’ Copeland, Texas blues guitarist extraordinaire. When she was only sixteen, Shemekia was touring and opening for her father’s shows, gaining a reputation for her stunning live perfomances. Since then and her father’s untimely passing she has released three solo albums, received a Grammy nomination, won numerous awards (Living Blues, W.C.Handy) and now hosts her own blues show on Sirius radio. (Channel 74 , Saturdays at noon). And at the end of next month, she will be heading out to Iraq and Kuwait with numerous other blues artists to perform for the troops so I suspect she is a beautiful person inside as well as out. (Click on ‘News’ on her website to read more about this tour).
What strikes me most about Shemekia – aside from her ability to switch from sultry to don’t mess with me in a heartbeat – is the emotional maturity of her vocal range. I mean, this girl is still only in her twenties yet she could be channeling Bessie Smith or Koko Taylor. She has been compared to Etta James, Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner and although I am not denying those similarities I believe that what people are really relating to is the gritty honesty and realism that she brings to her music. It’s a soul searing, completely credible quality (also evidenced in the singers noted above) and it evokes an emotional response in the listener so that they truly experience and understand the message. (Even when the message is “So long honey and keep your money” which does seem fairly clear to me…)
Shemekia’s version of the blues is also her own kind of hybrid which I keenly respect. Drawing from a blues palette, she’s added new twists and brightened the genre with colours from her own experience and youth. On her website she also shows herself to be a (blues) preservationist and expresses a desire to educate more people about how many current genres, such as hip hop have their roots in the blues. This is both excellent and shrewd. I wish that more people were doing this very thing as it keeps the blues relevant and makes it more accessible to everyone.
Her most current cd The Soul Truth features many funk and soul-inspired numbers as well as the more obviously blues ones such as the irresistible Breakin’ Out which could be the thinking-woman’s alternative to I Will Survive.
An earlier cd Talking to Strangers is also a superb album, flawless in every way, with standout tracks being Livin’ on Love and Too Much Traffic.
Note: If you don’t know how to shimmy, you definitely will by the end of this album, like it or not …
And finally, because I started this article talking about being in my car so late at night, I feel that I must make mention of the amazing, award winning song It’s 2 am from the Wicked album. Check it out. Wicked is also a great cd (frankly,you cannot go wrong with any of these albums) and the raunchy Wild, Wild Woman and Beat Up Guitar are noteworthy tracks.
Shemekia Copeland – she’s got it all and I look forward to hearing more!
Buy The Soul Truth now from Amazon.com