Shemekia Copeland

Shemekia Copeland
Never Going Back

Telarc CD83692

By Art Tipaldi
April 2009

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By crossing over all arbitrary boundaries, such as blues, rock, soul, R&B, and even hip-hop, Never Going Back demands its own category, called “Shemekia.”

In 1998, I was honored to introduce Shemekia Copeland to the world when I wrote the liner notes on debut CD. Now, 11 years later, I also have the honor to review Copelandís newest record and direction. Throughout her previous four records, Copeland has distinguished herself as the blues talent with the booming, blast furnace voice.

Fans used to hearing Copeland boom lyrics might be caught off guard. The voice is still here, but singing more, and blasting less. The ease in Copelandís delivery is obvious from the start. But instead of overtaxing her voice throughout, she lets inflection, phrasing, intonation, and vibrato tell her stories about our complicated times.

The title cut, “Never Going Back To Memphis,” has Copeland in a dimly lit, Tom Waits all night cafť divulging the story of crime and escape. If you saw her perform this on Letterman, you watched a talented singer and band turn this into a transcendent moment.

David Letterman - who sees a top band almost every night - was stunned with giddy excitement.

The CD opens with “Sounds Like The Devil,” her scathing indictment of todayís political and religious propaganda. “Broken World” voices Copelandís belief that if everyone fixed a small part of the world, eventually most problems would be healed.

Producer Oliver Woodís slide guitar illuminates Copelandís call for truth in the world on “The Truth Is The Light.” Previous Copeland outings have her searching for her man; “Rise Up” finds Copeland championing the causes of women looking to find strength in the hand life has dealt.

Other supporting musicians include Chris Wood and John Medeski from Medeski Martin and Wood, Kofi Burbridge and Mike Mattison from Derek Trucksí band; minimalist guitarist Marc Ribot, Hammond soul and blues legend Ike Stubblefield, and the rhythm section of drummer Tyler Greenwell and bassist Ted Pecchio from Col. Bruce Hamptonís Codetalkersí.

Woodís atmospheric production and co-writing credits on six of the tunes ask Copeland to follow a new pace and arrangement. Because of the diverse nature of the songs and styles (only two of the twelve are recognizable blues,) there probably needs to be some road testing of the arrangements between Copeland and her touring band to find the emotional delivery right for her. If the Letterman experience is any indication, it only took Shemekia and her band a few gigs to fully own these songs.

Her blues roots augment Julie and Buddy Millerís “Dirty Water,” with her longtime guitarist Arthur Neilson adding his greasy slide guitar. Copeland raises her performance bar and challenges herself with a smoky, jazz interpretation on Joni Mitchellís “Black Crow,” backed with the avant-garde musicianship of the Wood brothers - Medeski and Ribot. Copelandís band indulges Percy Mayfieldís “Riverís Invitation” with a soothing contemporary R&B sleekness.

Every Copeland record includes one for her father, the great Johnny Copeland. “Circumstances” features Copelandís breathy alto in a down home duet with Wood and Neilson.

Blues music nominations and awards have always acknowledged her as the future of the blues. This record announces that sheís grown into so much more.

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