Shemekia Copeland

December 23, 2017 | By | Add a Comment

The Blues are the best! From rock blues, to bluegrass and country, to gospel, there’s someone out there who has it worse than you do. If the cause is a cheating lover, a lost job, breaking the law because you had to, or the devil himself, in the blues you’re a good person in a tough world, but you’re not alone—everyone’s got to gather around and hear all about it. Shemekia Copeland, who recently performed at the Iridium Jazz Club, is one of the rare singers blessed with both power and range. She can just wail it out, and you’re happy to hear it. Or she can bring it all back to quiet or spoken delivery if that what’s needed. No problem. Funny stories? Check. Raunchy-when-required? Check. Personal moment introducing husband and one-year-old toddler who runs out to hug her knees while wearing protective air-traffic controller headphones? Check.

Who knows what combination of hard work and growing up in music as the daughter of another great musician, Texas Blues guitarist-singer Johnny Copeland, got her to this point, but Copeland looks comfortable, even humble, as though being really, really good on stage were just part of her everyday life. From her debut at the Cotton Club at age 8 to her teenage years opening for her dad, Copeland has put in the time, and now the work is her own. Her voice sounds like it’s coming from a person who knows who she is. She seems to have a dynamic relationship with the idea of Christianity, as the big gospel sound and feeling of testifying are very much in her singing, but she throws around a little salty language and she calls out the hypocrites in songs like “Somebody Else’s Jesus” (John Hahn, Oliver Wood), toys with the edges of oh-so-human temptation in “I Feel a Sin Coming On” (Orville Couch, Eddie McDuff), and riffs on commercialism in “Big Brand New Religion” (Chris Long, Oliver Wood). There’s a strong Nashville influence as well: Copeland embraces the twang and the way blues crosses over between genres.

Many of the songs were written by John Hahn and Oliver Wood, two members of the team behind her current Alligator Records album, Outskirts of Love. Copeland also sang a couple of her original songs, including a new seasonal chestnut, “Stay a Little Longer, Santa,” which offers Mr. Claus a little more than milk and cookies to cheer him up on his busiest night of the year, as well as a few of Johnny Copeland’s, among them the wrenching “It’s My Own Tears” and “Circumstances.”

Copeland’s band is a consistent group that tours together, and you can hear it. It’s a rock lineup with lead and rhythm guitars alternating between Arthur Neilson and Willie Scandlyn, Kevin Jenkins on bass, and Robin Gould on drums; Doug Wolverton guested on trumpet. Super-expressive and involved players, all, they had that look that people give each other on stage when they trust each other and have weathered some crazy audiences, but they still love to play. The trumpet was played through enough echo and reverb effect to make Wolverton sound like a whole horn section when he doubled a guitar. Occasionally pulling out a slide, switching pedals, or getting into extended technique using a pick high up on the fretboard, Scandlyn and Neilson’s guitar solos were mind-melting. No need to hold back to support a singer in this case, as Copeland can keep up with anything they can dish out. Jenkins, Scandlyn, and Wolverton did some three-part backing vocals, which added to the call-and-response dialogue with the band.

Next time her tour schedule brings her to town, go hear her and see how it’s done. There’s nothing sad about these blues.

Iridium Jazz Club – December 14, 15

Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

From Canada, Penelope Thomas came to NY to study dance with Merce Cunningham; then through a series of fortunate and unfortunate events, she wound up back in singing and acting. Credits include lead vocals with FauveMuseum on two albums and live at Symphony Space, singing back-up for Bistro Awards director Shellen Lubin at the Metropolitan Room, reading poet Ann Carson’s work at the Whitney, and touring North America and Europe with Mikel Rouse’s The End of Cinematics. In Toronto, she studied piano at the Royal Conservatory of Music and cello with the Claude Watson School for the Arts, and in New York she studied music theory with Mark Wade. She's taught in the New School’s Sweat musical theatre intensive and taught dance in public schools and conservatories.

Leave a Reply