Alligator Records 2015
12 tracks; 44 minutes
Everybody knows Shemekia, daughter of Johnny Copeland and now firmly established as one of the top singers in contemporary blues. Still only in her thirties, this is her seventh album, again with Oliver Wood (with whom she made the Grammy-nominated 33 1/3) as producer and guitarist. Executive producer John Hahn again contributes material, having a hand in four of the songs here, three with Oliver. As ever, Shemekia includes one of her Dad’s songs and also covers songs from the repertoires of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, ZZ Top, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Solomon Burke, Jesse Winchester, Creedence and Albert King – quite a range! The musicians featured alongside Shemekia’s powerhouse vocals and Oliver’s guitar are Jano Rix on drums and keys and Lex Price on bass. Guests include guitarists Billy Gibbons, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Arthur Neilson, Guthrie Trapp, Will Kimbrough and Robert Randolph and horns are added to two tracks by Matt Glassmeyer.
The CD opens with the title track, a song typical of Shemekia – a powerful rocker with a social conscience – as she tells of the difficult lives that people in poor areas have to survive. A second Hahn/Wood tune explores more difficult lyrical territory as Shemekia takes us to “Crossbone Beach” where she appears to have been passed a drugged drink – “my soul washed up on Crossbone Beach, close to hell as you can reach”; however, she gets her revenge later in the song! Johnny Copelan’s “Devil’s Hand” is lower key to start with, more doom and gloom as Shemekia “saw the devil playing his hand; you know he wrecked my life just like a hurricane” but soon ramps up as the horns back up the chugging guitars, another excellent track. “The Battle Is Over (But The War Goes On)” was a tune done by Sonny Terry/Brownie McGhee and it fits perfectly with the social conscience nature of much of this album, as well as having a great core riff and some fine slide work at its heart. A gentler tune but equally tough in terms of subject matter is “Cardboard Box”, a co-write between John Hahn and Briton Ian Siegal. Alvin Youngblood Hart plays guitar and shares vocals on this harrowing tale of homeless people which is mainly acoustic. Shemekia takes us on a jaunty country detour on the amusing “Driving Out Of Nashville”, the last of the Hahn/Wood songs, Pete Finney’s pedal steel giving the song an appropriately country feel. Shemekia seems to relish some of the funny lines here: “I’m driving out of Nashville with a body in the trunk, trying to figure out the depths to which I’ve sunk. I never hit the big time, but I went out with a bang, ‘cos country music ain’t nothing but the blues with a twang”.
The second half of the album is all covers, starting with a great version of “I Feel A Sin Coming On”, a song once sung by Solomon Burke. Those are big boots to fill but Shemekia is more than capable of doing so and you can really believe that she is about to fall to temptation, her vocal well supported by backing vocalists and horns. A rumba rhythm opens Jesse Winchester’s “Isn’t That So” and the lyrics follow on nicely from the previous song, as Shemekia sings of following your heart and “finding the line of least resistance”. ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons joins in the fun on the remake of the band’s “Jesus Just Left Chicago” with some meaty power chords well supported by Lex’s bass and some interesting percussion additions from engineer Mike Poole. John Fogerty’s CCR anthem “Long As I Can See The Light” is a superb song and Shemekia’s version compares well to the original with plenty of guitar work on both slide and ‘twangy’ lead. The Albert King cover “Wrapped Up In Love Again” adds Shemekia’s regular road guitarist Arthur Neilson who plays some strong blues licks for us, even managing some of Albert’s famous sustains. The album closes with a gentle acoustic reading of Jessie Mae Hemphill’s gospel piece “Lord, Help The Needy”, Shemekia’s voice set against just echoey slide, acoustic bass, minimal percussion and what sounds like some ethereal harp work (uncredited). As on several tracks, Shemekia wears her social conscience on her sleeve.
This is a fine album with no weak cuts, probably even stronger than 33 1/3 which was nominated for a Grammy. Recommended and likely to be on many ‘best of’ lists at the end of the year.
Editor’s Note: This Album is nominated for a Grammy Award and is also nominated for a Blues Music Award.