Shemekia Copeland has plenty to say, and in her new album, Done Come Too Far, she pulls no punches. The power of her music comes not from flashy instrumentation, but from the lyrics she delivers through her impassioned, potent vocals. “For me the words always come first when I’m picking a song to sing,” Copeland says, “’cause I’m not a songwriter, I’m a song picker.” And for this CD, she selected most of her numbers from the songwriting duo of John Hahn and Will Kimbrough, who also produced the album. Her frequent, deep conversations with Hahn resulted in lyrics that represent what’s on Copeland’s mind. The result is a CD heavy on social commentary that’s profoundly personal and fearless — making the blues especially relevant for today.

Through her fierce, forceful voice, Copeland pays tribute to the history of the civil rights movement and the urgency to persist in “Too Far to Be Gone.” It’s a hard-hitting, propulsive start to the album — a cry for equality richly earned — pairing Kimbrough on guitar and Sonny Landreth on slide. “Pink Turns to Red” is an uncompromising, intensely painful portrayal of mass shootings in the U.S., expressed within a dynamic, rocking song. Copeland’s tortured vocals are breathtaking in “The Talk,” a slow blues about the conversation every parent has to have with a black son, a warning that one misstep could put his life at risk. Seeing a child as a deadly threat no doubt has Copeland thinking of her own young boy. Then with music stripped bare, featuring an African gourd banjo, “Gullah Geechee” — referring to the slaves of the East Coast South — is a haunting, harrowing depiction of a woman’s agony as her man is dragged away as a slave. 

Changing pace from social and historical issues, Copeland sings of the heartrending end of a love affair in “Why Why Why.” The sorrow in her voice is mirrored by Kimbrough’s gorgeous slide guitar. And you’ll want to hit the dance floor in “Fried Catfish and Bibles, “ a buoyant, fun-filled zydeco number with accordion, fiddle and washboard.

“Done Come Too Far” is an echo of the first track — sharing the same chorus — but darker, unyielding and somewhat menacing. The singing here is superb, with Cedric Burnside teaming up on vocals and playing his hill country blues. The upbeat “Barefoot in Heaven” is accompanied by Kimbrough’s celestial guitar. Copeland’s voice takes on a country twang in “Fell in Love with a Honky,” alluding to her husband, Brian Schultz, in a high-spirited, playful number enhanced by fiddle and pedal steel guitar.

Then the mood becomes excruciatingly somber as Copeland, backed by acoustic guitar, sings from the point of view of a child suffering sexual abuse in “The Dolls Are Sleeping.” The matter-of-fact manner in which she conveys the lyrics only intensifies the listeners’ anguish. “Dumb It Down,” rhythm-driven and enriched with saxophone and organ, is an expression of Copeland’s disgust at the shallowness of contemporary culture. The album signs off with a nod to her father, the esteemed Johnny Copeland, with his song “Nobody But You,” a rousing blues delivered with his daughter’s exhilarating vocals.

Done Come Too Far presents the many facets of a consummate musician. It’s Shemekia Copeland’s contemplation of our society — with its flaws and attributes — as she seeks a more just and equitable future. (Sandra B. Tooze)