Shemekia Copeland – Never Going Back
12 Tracks with 7 project member originals; 45 minutes 43 seconds; Splendid
Style: “Coming-Out-of-the-Contemporary-Blues-Box” with some rocking guitar, gospel twists, attitude, Delta slides and rifts and some folk pop jazz….can you say ‘mainstream crossover’, ‘movie sound track’, ‘more BMA winning to come’…..
On the heels of returning from the Bluzapalooza Tour of Iraq and Kuwait, Shemekia’s launching the release of her 5th CD, Never Going Back. The players are Shemekia Copeland vocals and background vocals; Oliver Wood, slide guitar; Ted Pecchio, bass; Tyler Greenwell, drums/percussion; Ike Stubblefield, Hammond organ Kofi Burbridge, Wurlitzer piano, background vocals (3); Arthur Neilson, slide guitar (2); John Medeski, Hammond organ (3); Mike Mattison; Chris Wood, bass (4, 6, 7 ); Marc Ribot, guitar (4, 6, 7); Marcus Henderson, tambourine, background vocals (7); and Chonda McKnight, background vocals (7)
I’ve had Shemekia’s Never Going Back CD in my possession since the first week of February when the Blues Blast editor handed it to me in Memphis in front of Rum Boogie during the IBC week, with the message, “…ok, you’ve earned this, and just so you know, everyone wanted to review Shemekia’s newest CD but I’m giving you the honor.” And what an honor it has been.
But hey, what more can I possibly say here about it, when you’ve got David Letterman exclaiming “oh my God, oh my God, oh my goodness, wow, wasn’t that great!” after Shemekia and her band performed on the David Letterman Show February 20, 2009. He even kissed the back of her hand (Shemekia, don’t wash that hand girlfriend)! Doesn’t that say it all that one of our favorite female ‘blues’ singers is getting us some attention by sliding into home-base with what’s obviously another comfort zone for her of jazz-pop-rock-gospel-jam influences? In case you missed it, you can see the performance and both David’s and the audience’s reaction by going to the link on her website www.shemekiacopeland.com. (Or simply CLICK HERE)
So yeah, I’ve been listening to it over and over again and again, knowing I’d better get going on the review before I get a ‘ahem, Belinda, review please?’ request from the editor! But hold on, I’ve not been selfish in my listening! I’ve carried this piece of art with me all over Memphis, then to Phoenix, then to South Beach and turned on both my blues and non-blues friends to the CD. I even played it during an in-hotel-room massage where the South Beach masseuse asked, ‘who is that you’re listening to, it’s great!”
Track 1 is Sounds Like the Devil (co-written by Shemekia, her manager John Hahn, and Kevin So) and one of my personal favorites out of the 4, ok 5, well 6 personal favorites I selected. Don’t get me wrong, they’re all amazing tunes, both in the lyrics which have been skillfully crafted by John Hahn, Shemekia or John and Oliver Wood or Oliver and Chris Wood or Oliver Wood and Chris Long; I mean jeeezzzzz…is there a multitude of talent here or what? How lucky are these guys to have Shemekia to spread their word through her passionate vocal delivery and how lucky is she to have talented band and project members with a song-writing manager to boot! That’s why this CD just works and why you should probably buy yourself a copy. If you don’t know the Wood Brothers, check out Medeski Martin & Wood on the ‘net and you’ll see why John and Shemekia are on an exciting blues path with mainstream audience appeal.
John and Oliver’s Broken World Track 3 is another favorite (I’m partial to a Hammond organ). The song’s message is timely, as we’d all like to fix the brokenness of this current world we’re living in. Track 4 is the title track Never Going Back to Memphis and the one they performed on Letterman. The beat, the words, the message—all haunting and eerie—laced up in a nice package with some Memphis-crime truth—this one’s a movie soundtrack for sure….Track 5 is The Truth is the Light, keeping it real and upbeat with a message about love, hurt, tears, and truth mixed with some great rockin’ guitar rifts. The song’s story and Shemekia’s vocals build and rise to a powerful crescendo ending. Track 7 is (I was) Born a Penny (and I ain’t gonna be no dime). Don’t be trying to change her; you’ll be wasting your time, she’s holding on to this simple life!
Track 8 Limousine I’ve probably listened to a hundred times, VOLUME TURNED WIDE OPENED! I LOVE this one! My heart ain’t your limousine, my heart ain’t your easy chair, it ain’t your garbage can…catchy clever and addicting! Ladies, listen up: talk about attitude and confidence! This should be our 2009 theme song.
All tracks are CD-project originals except for the following: Track 2 Dirty Water, a Julie and Buddy Miller tune delivered with a rocking soul grabbing style; Track 9 River’s Invitation, a Percy Mayfield song; Track 10 is Paul Thorn and Billy Maddox’s Rise Up, whose sound and message has always reminded me of the theme song on Good Times, We’re Moving on Up; on 8 we have Shemekia’s sweet slow rendition of Joni Mitchell’s Black Crow; and Track 12 is a Johnny Copeland original Circumstances. I love how the CD ends with this tribute to Shemekia’s father Johnny who was a popular touring blues act having played with other great acts like Sonny Boy Williamson, Big Mama Thornton and Freddie King. He won a Grammy in 1987 for best traditional blues album for Showdown, recorded with Robert Cray and Albert Collins.
You get a little mainstream taste of it all here with big blues-inspired bites of the perfect project mix of talented musicians, great songwriting, sassy attitude, exploding voice, raw honesty, passion, soul, and inspirational heights of sincere emotion. Buy it today (and see you at this and next year’s Blues Music Awards, Shemekia).
Belinda Foster is a Columnist and Contributing Writer for Greenville SC Magazine “Industry Mag” and former manager of Mac Arnold & Plate Full O’Blues. She currently books blues-rock-jam musicians and is a devoted promoter and supporter of live blues root music and history, making frequent trips to “The Crossroads” and Clarksdale Mississippi, birthplace of the blues. Her column “The Upstate Blues Report can be found on line at www.industrymag.net.