John’s Blues Picks September 2015 – Shemekia Copeland “Outskirts of Love”
Shemekia Copeland “Outskirts of Love” (Alligator/Fontana North/Universal) | www.shemekiacopeland.com
In 2012, Shemekia Copeland was crowned the “New Queen of the Blues” at the Chicago Blues Festival and the passing of the crown from Koko’s family couldn’t have been more appropriate. Shemekia is back on Alligator Records and this production does her up proud: new songs – some not blues and some not original but all excellent. She is in top form on vocals here as she was at this year’s Festival, a major highlight of that weekend. She has always dealt in social commentary and several songs here are sterling new examples: the opening “(Living on the) Outskirts of Love” is a roaring way to start, the verses about with runaway brides and neglected children.
In “Crossbone Beach” the narrator is a victim of date rape and seeking payback – powerful songs both on subjects that need to be addressed. Robert Randolph guests with his steel guitar. She usually does a song by her father on each outing and this time it’s “Devil’s Hand”, done in African arrangement with a horn section. Perhaps this is not an unusual choice given Johnny Clyde Copeland’s African album but it’s a lovely version nonetheless. A contemporary take on Sonny & Brownie’s “The Battle Is Over” leads into a fabulous new country blues duet with Alvin Youngblood Hart on a song about the homeless, “Cardbox Box”.
The rest of the disc is much more varied with “Drivin’ Out Of Nashville (with a body in the trunk)” her first country tune, Solomon Burke’s “I Feel A Sin Coming On” getting a wonderful R&B workout, Jesse Winchester’s “Isn’t That So” in a rhumba arrangement and ZZ Top’s “Jesus Just Left Chicago” with Billy Gibbons himself on guitar. Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Long As I Can See The Light” gets a beautiful vocal from Shemekia. Albert King’s “Wrapped Up In Love Again” and Jesse Mae Hemphill’s “Lord Help The Poor And Needy” end the disc back familiar territory – the latter a stellar way to end as Hemphill’s song fits Shemekia’s philosophy exactly. There have been a number of fine blues albums this year and this one will be near or at the top of that list. We’ll see that at awards time. She was just at the Calabogie Festival but www.shemekiacopeland.com shows no more Canadian dates.
The release date is September 11 and the album will be available at all the usual sites for purchase and streaming.