Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Shemekia Copeland's Deluxe Alligator Blues

Shemekia Copeland impressed me the first time I saw her perform as she was with her father, Johnny Copeland. I had heard amazing things about this teenager and on the night in 1995 or 1996 at Tornado Alley in Wheaton, Maryland, she sang a few numbers backed by Johnny’s band exhibiting a poise as well as power that belied her age. I believe it was Bill Wax (now of XM-Sirius Bluesville) who said she reminded him of a young Irma Thomas. And her dad was beaming on stage listening to his baby perform. Her late father undoubtedly would not be surprised by how far his daughter as come, being one of the biggest attractions in the blues today.

Alligator, for whom Shemekia recorded her first four albums, has just issued the latest in its “Deluxe Edition” series of reissues with 16 selections (over an hour of music) compiled from these four releases as well as an Alligator Christmas release. Along with her live performances, these recordings have established her reputation and these do provide a good sampling of these recordings. She really shouts out these out against solid bands. What is striking is how good she is, how solid the bands are but the songs stand out more from what she invests in them as many of these songs are solid, if somewhat idiomatic. One song that stands out is her father’s “Ghetto Child,” which has become a cornerstone of her performances, but her lament on the state of current radio, “Who Stole My Radio?” is better sung than the lyrics perhaps deserve. Other songs like a toast to a lady’s salon in ”Sholanda’s,” are a bit more original. That song along with the fine late night lament “Don’t Whisper,” are songs Shemekia collaborated with others in writing. This latter number has a fine vocal where Shemekia has turned the heat down, but it still smolders. Other songs include here include the burning “Turn the Heat Up,” and the acidic “Salt In My Wounds.”

This “Deluxe Edition” includes a booklet with all the session information of the performances and a poster whose the back containing Bruce Iglauer’s reflections on her as well as rare photos of Shemekia. It is a fine retrospective of the music Shemekia Copeland recorded for Alligator and especially for those lacking a CD by her, serves as a welcome starting point to her powerful blues.

The review copy was provided by Alligator Records.

No comments: