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Shemekia Copeland – 33 1/3

Telarc Records

11 tracks; 44.51 minutes

I have been a fan of Shemekia Copeland since her first album. This CD retains Oliver Wood in the producer’s chair. Wood plays guitar throughout but makes space on two tracks for Shemekia’s regular guitarist Arthur Nielson and on one track for Buddy Guy to add his distinctive sounds. The rhythm section is Ted Pecchio (Susan Tedeschi) on bass and Gerry Hansen on drums; pedal steel is added to three tracks by Roosevelt Collier and to a fourth by Charlie Starr; Neil Wauchope (Sean Costello) plays organ on two tracks, Jon Liebman harmonica on two and JJ Grey shares vocal duties on one track. Writing credits are varied with producer Wood teaming up with long-standing Shemekia composer John Hahn on four tracks alongside a selection of well-chosen covers.

The album opens with Wood/Hahn’s “Lemon Pie” a chugging beat and a lyric about social divides, the ‘lemon pie’ of the title being a little like Marie-Antoinette’s famous ‘let them eat cake’ comment. Straightaway Skemekia’s brilliant voice is at the front of the mix. Second track is “Can’t Let Go”, a lighter song with an ‘ear-worm’ chorus about the difficulty of ending a relationship, a song by Randy Weeks. Two more Wood/Hahn songs follow: “Ain’t Gonna Be Your Tattoo” is a serious song about abusive relationships: “Just what I said wrong is anyone’s guess, but the bruise on my face was as blue as my dress”. The slow paced song takes us from that opening scene of the guy beating up his girl and follows her through her low moments to the possibility of a new relationship – only to discover that the new guy is probably the same. From verse two onwards Buddy Guy joins in, at first gently, then opening into a solo of savage intensity. The second song is in my view the best on the whole CD – “Somebody Else’s Jesus”, a song about false evangelists. Appropriately, Shemekia lets her voice take on all the gospel tones that she learned in the real church as she debunks the false preacher: “You say the Lord called you early one morning telling you to preach, so you opened up a big church in Miami Beach. You got a hot line to heaven, puts you in control. The only thing you’re missing now, baby, is forgiveness in your soul”. Musically this is almost country rock (Oliver Wood plays his guitar like vintage Lynyrd Skynyrd) with the soulfulness of Shemekia’s voice – check out the way she sings the title in the chorus.

JJ Grey’s “A Woman” is a quiet follow-up with Charlie Starr’s weeping pedal steel maintaining that country feel to the music while Shemekia emotes strongly on the vocal. “I Sing The Blues” is an Earl Thomas song that Tracy Nelson covered on last year’s “Victim Of The Blues”. Shemekia takes it at a slower pace with Jon Liebman’s harp adding a slightly oppressive feel to the song. “Mississippi Mud” is the last Wood/Hahn song and is introduced by a funky guitar riff. Shemekia shares vocals with JJ Grey and the song is another catchy success. Shemekia always includes one of her late father’s songs and this time around it’s “One More Time”, a slow paced song about infidelity and its possibly fatal consequences: “I catch you again I’m gonna take your life, one more time to catch you running around”. You can really believe that Shemekia means it from her vocal! More cheerfully Sam Cooke’s “Ain’t That Good News” finds Shemekia jumping for joy at her lover’s return. As well as the great vocal Arthur Nielson’s short fills on lead guitar drive the song along really well. “Hangin’ Up” was written by Chris Long of Georgia’s King Johnson (Oliver Wood’s former band) and it’s a terrific song, another highlight of the CD. A rousing chorus and some more excellent lead guitar are wrapped in the warm organ tones of Neil Wauchope. The final song is Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Bay Tonight”. It’s a song which is usually done at a fast pace and comes across as a lively love/lust song. Here Shemekia sings far more slowly, making the song more wistful and somewhat at odds with the famous line “bring that bottle over here, I’ll be your baby tonight”.

This is a strong album with several outstanding songs and a host of superb vocal performances from Shemekia who has been well served here by her production team and the selection of songs. I can definitely recommend this one. 

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music.

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