Alligator Records ALCD 6966
12 songs – 44 minutes
Koko Taylor’s daughter Cookie proclaimed Shemekia Copeland the new Queen Of The Blues after her mother’s death a few years ago, and the reason she did is apparent throughout the powerful vocalist’s latest release, her return to the Alligator label for a fifth release after a 10-year separation.
The album title hints at what you’ll find in the tunes. All of the material on the disc deals with the theme that runs throughout the blues: being an outsider in one way or another, whether it be love or something else.
Despite her relative youth – she’s 37 – in blues terms, the Harlem-born daughter of guitar legend Johnny Copeland has been a star in her own right since first appearing with her dad at age 16. She emerged as a recording artist to be reckoned with herself just two years later with the release of Turn Up The Heat, and her pipes and personality quickly propelled her to the top of the blues world. At 20, she earned her first Grammy nomination for the album Wicked.
The accolades keep coming. Not only is she nominated for Female Artist Of The Year in this year’s BluesBlast Awards, Outskirts Of Love is under consideration, along with five others, for Contemporary Blues Album Of The Year. Shemekia’s backed here by Oliver Wood on guitar. A member of the Wood Brothers, Oliver spent years on the road with Tinsley Ellis before releasing six albums with his own group, King Johnson. He also produced this CD in addition to adding backing vocals and co-writing four of the numbers.
Handing the rhythm are percussionist/keyboard player Jano Rix and bassist Lex Price with guest appearances by guitarists Billy Gibson of ZZ Top, Alvin Youngblood Hart and sacred steel master Robert Randolph. Adding to the mix are guitarists Will Kimbrough, Arthur Neilson, Guthrie Trapp and Pete Finney, Matt Glassmeyer on horns, Eric Fritch on organ, Mike Poole on percussion, who recorded the album, and Jason Eskridge on backing vocals.
Wood and John Hahn penned the two opening tunes in an album that draws material from several different mediums. The title song, “Outskirts Of Love,” describes a bride waiting at a bus stop in her wedding gown after she’d already pawned her wedding ring and a young girl in a hallway who’s sent out to play because her mom’s “entertaining,” among others. “Crossbone Beach” depicts a woman being drugged by a gold-toothed man in a bar and awaking at the title location.
Next up, Shemekia dips into dad Johnny’s songbook, something she does on each CD, for “Devil’s Hand,” a loping shuffle about Satan wrecking the singer’s life “like a hurricane.” A Sonny Terry-Brownie McGhee standard, “The Battle Is Over (But The War Goes On),” follows before a cover of Ian Siegal’s “Cardboard Box.” Hart provides acoustic guitar and accompanying vocals as Coleman wails about life in the street.
The Wood/Hahn original “Driving Out Of Nashville” is a first-person description of leaving Music City after an attempt at stardom and the attempted seduction by a recording industry bigwig, whose body is in the car’s trunk. It includes the line: “Country music ain’t nothin’ but blues with a twang.” It’s followed by a cover of country star Orville Couch’s ballad, “I Feel A Sin Coming On,” about the feelings racing through a woman’s mind when she’s on the verge of cheating.
Memphis Music Hall Of Famer Jesse Winchester’s “Isn’t That So,” which questions the motives of a lover, follows before covers of ZZ Top’s “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” John Fogarty’s “Long As I Can See The Light” and Albert King’s “Wrapped Up In Love Again.” The album concludes with Jessie Mae Hemphill’s gospel classic, “Lord, Help The Poor And Needy.”
It’s a potent collection of material, and Shemekia makes every tune her own with a voice soaked with emotion. Available everywhere, and highly recommended.