Pop CD Review: Shemekia Copeland’s “33 1/3”

 Shemekia Copeland

33 1/3 (Telarc)

By Devon Wendell

Shemekia Copeland has proven to be one of the most important and vital forces in the world of modern blues since she began recording and touring, as well as opening up shows for her father, the legendary late great Texas bluesman Johnny “Clyde” Copeland over 15 years ago.

Her tough yet vulnerable vocal style can fit in any genre of American music, from blues to rock, gospel, r&b, country to pop. Copeland is also a poignant and imaginative lyricist. All of these aspects of her talent are prevalent on her latest album 33 1/3 (Telarc).

Copeland is backed by the album’s producer, Oliver Wood of The Woody Brothers, on guitar, Ted Pecchio on bass, and Gary Hansen on drums.

Although there are many covers on the album, it’s Copeland’s own material that shines a light on her profound lyric writing. This is the case on the album’s opener, “Lemon Pie.” which is an angry one-two punch rocker about the greedy rich and those living in abject poverty.

Copeland belts out her blues about the haves and the have- nots.

 “Lemon pie for the poor,

that’s what we’re working for.

I hope you weren’t expecting more

than lemon pie for the poor.”

Randy Weeks’ “Can’t Let Go” was a big hit for Lucinda Williams. Copeland slows down the tempo of Williams’ version, takes the country music elements out of the tune and turns it into her own funky blues. Her ferocity and aggressive vocal delivery along with Wood’s slashing slide guitar make this one of the album’s many highlights.

Copeland tackles domestic violence (both physical and emotional) on the slow and haunting “Ain’t Gonna Be Your Tattoo.” Copeland’s lyrics are full of dark yet clear imagery of a woman trying to get out of a dangerous relationship.

“They say 30’s young but I’m feeling old,

I guess that’s when the night got even cold.

Ain’t gonna be your tattoo, faded and blue.”

Buddy Guy appears on guitar with his unique out-of-phase Stratocaster screaming guitar leads which make the song even more menacing.

“Somebody Else’s Jesus” is a gospel flavor rock number about so many dishonest preachers who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.

The slow country ballad “A Woman” is a masterpiece. Wood’s slide guitar shadows each verse about how a woman really wants to be treated by a man. Copeland’s lead vocals and backing harmonies combine country, blues, and gospel in a way that is completely unique. This is one of the most powerful vocal performances recorded in years.

“I’ll Sing The Blues” has that slow, and wonderfully sexy feel, reminiscent of the late Etta James. Though this song is gritty and powerful, it lacks the intimacy and intensity of the rest of the album’s material.

“Mississippi Mud” is a raw blues-funk tune.  J.J. Grey guests on vocals. The interplay between the band members is stellar, and mixed perfectly without sounding polished.  In “Don’t you get stuck in that Mississippi Mud,” Copeland warns people about the perils of one way thinking and resting on one’s laurels.

Copeland also covers her father’s slow minor key blues “One More Time.” Her phrasing is frighteningly close to her dad’s gravely vocals on the original.  The band’s muddy and bleak sound is similar to something heard on one of Bob Dylan’s latest albums.

So many artists have covered Sam Cooke’s “Ain’t That Good News”, and Copeland’s version is nothing special, but it’s the album’s only weak point. The vocals are strong but the arrangement falls flat.

“Hangin’ Up” has a country-rock feel, especially the song’s chorus and layered guitar harmonies. Copeland’s vocals are totally sincere and filled with a pain and vulnerability.  Producer Wood’s guitar work stands out once again.

Copeland’s vocal range from rough and tough to angelic and sweet is perfectly exemplified on a beautiful and delicate reading of Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” which closes the album. Of the thousands of Dylan covers over the last 50 years, this is one of the greatest to date. The band plays at level of a whisper behind Copeland’s childlike yet eerie vocals.

Shemekia Copeland’s 33 1/3 is not only her finest album, but one of the most original, compelling, and powerful blues albums released in a long time. Copeland is a blues singer and a poet, which is rare to find today. This recording is destined to get a lot of well deserved attention.

To read more reviews and posts by Devon Wendell click HERE.


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