Shemekia Copeland – America’s Child
Celebrating the twentieth anniversary of her debut recording on Alligator Records, Shemekia Copeland returns with her eighth recording, that finds producer Will Kimbrough utilizing her powerhouse voice as the centerpiece on twelve songs that mix biting social commentary with slices of American roots music. Tracks like the razor-sharp “In The Blood Of The Blues” confirm that Copeland remains a first-rate blues singer. Even more impressive is “Promised Myself,” done as a tribute to her father, Johnny Clyde Copeland. She keeps her emotions under control, using meticulous phrasing to convey the heartache in his original tune. Lead guitar on the track is handled by the another legend, Steve Cropper.
The singer is not afraid to share her thoughts on the state of modern society. The twin guitar attack of Kimbrough and Al Perkins on pedal steel guitar create a gut-wrenching backdrop on “Ain’t Got Time For Hate,” a steadfast pleas for understanding across the land. Another standout track is “Would You Take My Blood,” with Copeland breaking things down to the heart of racism, asking, “Would you take my blood, or would you rather die, than share your life with mine?”. Her duet with John Prine on “Great Rain,” written by Prine and Michael Campbell, mixes Prine’s weathered tones in stark contrast to Copeland’s dominating presence. “Such A Pretty Flame” finds the despondent singer struggling to find peace in the midst of the dying embers of love.
“Smoked Ham And Peaches” is a gentle ballad done acoustically with guest Rhiannon Giddens on African banjo. The pervasive calm of the song is punctuated by cutting lines like, “…Truth ain’t a rabbit, a trick that you pull from a hat. Somebody tell me what made us fall for that”. And a cover of one from Ray Davies, “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” gives Copeland the opportunity to defiantly declare her independence, with Kimbrough’s slide guitar injecting plenty of heat in support. On “Wrong Idea,” she delvers a pointed kiss-off to any would-be bar room Lotharios, with Kenny Sears using his fiddle to add a honky-tonk flavor. Executive producer Jerry Hahn teamed with noted songwriter Mary Gauthier to pen “Americans,” allowing Copeland to remind us of the diversity of cultures that have always combined to create our unique democratic society. The disc closes with Copeland singing the traditional children’s lullaby, “Go To Sleep Little Baby,” as she has probably done many times for her own child.
Other supporting musicians include Lex Price on bass, Pete Abbott on drums, Paul Franklin on pedal steel guitar, and J.D. Wilkes on harmonica. Kimbrough creates a number of haunting musical landscapes, and Copeland does the rest, time and again turning in distinctive performances that come from the heart. Two decades further along, she leaves little doubt that she is one of the finest singers of her generation.