The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Happy Sunday! I always look forward to putting together this weekly recurring feature, which allows me to explore music from different styles and decades without any limits, except keeping it to six tracks I dig. Are you ready to accompany me on another excursion? Hop on and let’s go!

Mose Allison/Crespuscular Air

Today our journey begins in November 1957 with Local Color, the sophomore album by Mose Allison. Shoutout to Bruce from Vinyl Connection whose recent post about the American jazz and blues pianist inspired me to include him in a Sunday Six. According to Wikipedia, Allison has been called “one of the finest songwriters in 20th-century blues.” Let’s just put it this way: Pete Townshend felt Allison’s Young Man Blues was good enough to be featured on The Who’s Live at Leeds album released in February 1970. John Mayall was one of the dozens of artists who recorded Allison’s Parchman Farm for his 1966 debut album with the Blues Breakers, Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton. Allison’s music has also influenced many other artists, such as Jimi Hendrix, J. J. Cale, the Yardbirds, The Rolling Stones and Tom Waits. Here’s Crespuscular Air, a mellow jazz instrumental composed by Allison and included on the above-mentioned Local Color – the same record that featured Parchman Farm.

Steve Earle/Goodbye

Our next stop takes us to February 1995, which saw the release of Steve Earle’s fifth studio album Train a Comin’. I’m still relatively new to Earle but have quickly come to appreciate his music, which over the decades has included country, country rock, rock, blues and folk. Train a Comin’, while not a commercial or chart success, was an important album for Earle who had overcome his drug addiction in the fall of 1994. The bluegrass, acoustic-oriented album was his first in five years and marked a departure from the more rock-oriented predecessor The Hard Way he had recorded with his backing band The Dukes. Goodbye, penned by Earle, is one of nine original tunes on Train a Comin’, which also includes four covers.

Boz Scaggs/Georgia

For this next pick, let’s go back to February 1976. While I’ve known the name Boz Scaggs for many years, mainly because of his ’70s hits Lowdown and Lido Shuffle, I’ve yet to explore his music catalog. Scaggs started his career in 1959 in high school as vocalist in Steve Miller’s first band The Marksmen. The two musicians continued to play together in a few other groups, including Steve Miller Band. After staying with the group for the first two albums, Scaggs secured a recording deal for himself and focused on his solo career. Georgia, a smooth groovy song written by Scaggs, is included on his seventh solo album Silk Degrees, which is best known for the aforementioned Lowdown and Lido Shuffle. Now 78 years, Scaggs still appears to be active and has released 19 solo albums to date.

Clarence Clemons & Jackson Browne/You’re a Friend of Mine

Are you ready for some ’80s music? Yes, You’re a Friend of Mine definitely can’t deny the period during which it was recorded, but it’s such an upbeat song – I love it! It brought together dynamite saxophone player Clarence Clemons and legendary singer-songwriter Jackson Browne. Co-written by Narada Michael Walden and Jeffrey Cohen, the tune was released in October 1985 as the lead single of Clemons’ solo debut album Hero, which came out in November of the same year. By that time Clemons had best been known as the saxophonist of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, which “The Big Man” had joined in the early ’70s. Sadly, Clemons who also appeared in several movies and on TV died of complications from a stroke in June 2011 at the age of 69. Man, what an amazing sax player. He could also sing!

The Jimi Hendrix Experience/Voodoo Child (Slight Return)

All right, time to jump back to the ’60s and some psychedelic rock by an artist who I trust needs no introduction: Jimi Hendrix. Voodoo Child (Slight Return), written by Hendrix, was included on Electric Ladyland, the third and final album by The Jimi Hendrix Experience released in October 1968. The tune also appeared separately as a single, first in the U.S. at the time of the album and subsequently in the UK in October 1970, one month after Hendrix had passed away in London at the age of 27. Prominent American guitarist Joe Satriani has called Voodoo Child “the greatest piece of electric guitar work ever recorded.” Regardless of whether one agrees with the bold statement, it’s a hell of a song. Stevie Ray Vaughan, one of my favorite electric blues guitarists, included an excellent cover on his 1983 sophomore album Couldn’t Stand the Weather.

Shemekia Copeland/It’s 2 A.M.

Time to wrap up another Sunday Six with a real goodie. Since I recently witnessed part of a live gig of Shemekia Copeland and reviewed her new album Done Come Too Far, this great blues vocalist has been on my mind. Shemekia, the daughter of Texas blues guitarist Johnny Copeland, started to sing as a child and by the time she was 16 knew she wanted to pursue a music career. After high school graduation in 1997, Copeland signed with Chicago-based independent blues label Alligator Records and recorded her debut album Turn the Heat Up! It’s 2 A.M., written by Rick Vito, is the excellent opener of her sophomore album Wicked that came out in September 2000. I could totally picture The Rolling Stones play this song. Check it out!

And, of course, I won’t leave you without a Spotify playlist featuring the above songs.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Advertisement

Shemekia Copeland’s New Album Features Powerful Blues and Hard-Hitting Lyrics

This album review has an intro, so bear with me. Last Saturday evening, I spontaneously decided to go to Asbury Park, a great town for live music on the Jersey shore not far from my house. My destination was The Stone Pony where during the warmer months of the year they have a Summer Stage series of outdoor concerts. I had seen Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit were scheduled to perform there. I’ve listened to some of Isbell’s music and generally dig what I’ve heard thus far.

Since I didn’t have a ticket and didn’t want to spend money, I joined many other folks just outside the venue where you can perfectly hear the music though only partially see the performing artists. While approaching The Stone Pony, I heard an incredible vocalist who obviously wasn’t Isbell. It turned out to be Shemekia Copeland, who was opening up for him – and, holy cow, this woman was killing it on stage! The next thing I did was to check her music catalog on my phone and, voila, that’s how I learned about Done Come Too Far, her latest album that was released on August 19. To say it right upfront, it’s a real beauty!

I believe the first time I may have heard of Shemekia Copeland was when fellow blogger Music Enthusiast wrote about her. I also previously included her in this blues feature. While I had known Copeland is a compelling artist, until my above live encounter, I had not fully appreciated what a powerhouse vocalist she is! You can certainly realize her vocal capabilities when listening to the new album, but, frankly, she sounds even better live!

I guess you could say Copeland was destined to become a blues artist. She’s the daughter of Texas blues guitarist Johnny Copeland who made his recording debut in 1956. Over a 40-plus year career, he recorded with the likes of Albert Collins and Robert Cray and became a popular touring act. He also helped establish Shemekia’s name in blues circles by taking her on the road to open his shows. She had started to sing as a child and by the time she was 16 began pursuing a professional career.

LOS ANGELES, CA— MARCH 18, 2022 RECORDING ARTIST, BLUES SINGER, SHEMEKIA COPELAND FOR ALLIGATOR RECORDS. Photos by Victoria Smith Make Up by KATE KATS

After high school graduation in 1997, Copeland signed with Chicago-based independent blues label Alligator Records and recorded her debut album. Turn the Heat Up! appeared in April 1998 and put her on the map as a  blues and R&B force. From her website: From her debut through 2005’s The Soul Truth, Shemekia earned eight Blues Music Awards and a host of Living Blues Awards. 2000’s Wicked received the first of her four Grammy nominations. After two successful releases on Telarc (including 2012’s Grammy-nominated 33 1/3), Copeland returned to Alligator Records in 2015 with the Grammy-nominated, Blues Music Award-winning Outskirts Of Love, melding blues with more rootsy, Americana sounds.

I think it’s time for some music from Done Come Too Far, Copeland’s 11th studio album. Let’s kick it off with the great opener Too Far To Be Gone. Like all other tracks featured in this post, it was co-written by John Hahn and producer Will Kimbrough. Featuring slide guitar wizard Sonny Landreth, you kind of know this has to be good! “This album was made by all sides of me — happy, sad, silly, irate — they’re all a part who I am and who we all are,” Copeland explained in a statement that announced the album, as well as Too Far To Be Gone as the lead single. “I’m not political. I’m just talking about what’s happening in this country.” And that she does, and she’s not holding back!

Pink Turns To Red, a powerful song about the madness of school shootings in this country, is perhaps the tune that lyrically stands out to me the most:…When pink turns to red, nowhere to run/Pink turns to red, life’s over and done/Tears will flow, prayers will be said/But it’s too late, pink turns to red…Nothing much to add here!

The Talk, a haunting slow blues, is another powerful tune about a worried black mom’s conversation with her son to be careful or risk being killed. I held my breath, as you took the first steps/I was proud as a mama can get/Now it’s been years, you’ve grown tall/But I’m still worried you’re gonna fall/Got to have the talk/Got to have the talk/You might do nothing wrong, the next moment you’ll be gone/Got to have the talk…”I tell him all the time, ‘Discipline is going to save your life one day,” Copeland told the Houston Press, referring to her 5-year-old son. “He doesn’t know what I’m talking about now, but I want him to remember it and think about it every day of his life. I tell the same thing to my nephews who are 16 and 19.”

On the title track, Copeland teams up with Mississippi Hill country blues icon Cedric Burnside who provides guest vocals. Lyrically, the song presents more candid words on the state of Blacks in present-day America with a defiant stance:…Done come too far to be gone, come too far to be gone/If you think we’re stopping, you got it wrong/We’re done come too far to be gone…If I could end things in this world, racism would be one of the first things. I will never understand or accept it!

The last track I’d like to call out is Fell In Love With a Honky. The country rock-oriented tune shows Copeland’s light-hearted side, setting a welcome contrast on an otherwise lyrically pretty grim album. Saw his long legs walking into Tussie’s/Next thing I knew, we was playing footsies/He wasn’t really handsome, just not my type/Standing by himself, in a jukebox light/But there was something about him that was kind of cute/Made me love him down to his cowboy boots…

Done Come Too Far was recorded in Nashville. Producer Will Kimbrough also served in that capacity on Copeland’s previous two albums. Apart from Sonny Landreth and Cedric Burnside, guests included country blues artist Kenny Brown; prominent Memphis soul keyboarder Charles Hodges; Oliver Wood, guitarist of American roots band The Wood Brothers; Americana singer-songwriter Aaron Lee Tasjan; and multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone, a member of alternative rock band Wilco.

Here’s a Spotify link to the album:

After having witnessed part of Copeland’s live set and listened to this album, I can understand some of the enthusiastic reactions she has received, which are noted on her website. For example: “Shemekia Copeland has established herself as one of the leading blues artists of our time.” –NPR Music. “Shemekia Copeland is an antidote to artifice. She is a commanding presence, a powerhouse vocalist delivering the truth.” –The Philadelphia Inquirer. And, perhaps most impressively: “I am so happy Shemekia is delivering these songs that the world needs to hear. Her voice is strong and soulful, and her message comes from her heart.” – Mavis Staples.

Reflecting on her musical evolution over her previous two albums and Done Come Too Far, Copeland said, “Once my son was born, I became even more committed to making the world a better place. On America’s Child [Aug 2018 – CMM], Uncivil War [Oct 2020 – CMM] and now Done Come Too Far, I’ve been trying to put the ‘United’ back into United States. Friends, family and home, these things we all value.” In case you’d like to see Copeland, her current tour schedule is here.

To those of you celebrating, happy Labor Day. To everybody else, I hope you have a great Monday as well!

Sources: Wikipedia; Shemekia Copeland website; Aligator Records press release; Houston Press; YouTube; Spotify

Blues Is My Business

I guess the title of the post, which I creatively borrowed from an Etta James song, pretty much gives it away. I’ve been into the blues and blues rock on and off for close to 40 years. My relatively short-lived period as a hobby bassist many moons ago started in a blues band.

After primarily focusing on other genres, I’ve turned more of my attention back to the blues over the past few years. While the old blues guard, i.e., the likes of B.B. King, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, is largely gone, encouragingly, a good number of relatively young artists including a significant amount of females are keeping the blues alive and putting their own stamp on it.

The idea for this post, which celebrates blues and blues rock from young and old artists, was triggered the other day when I came across Worried Life Blues, as covered by B.B. King and Eric Clapton on their great collaboration album Riding with the King from June 2000. Most of the music I feature here is in a Spotify playlist at the end of the post. I’m highlighting six of the tunes in the upfront.

B.B. King and Eric Clapton/Worried Life Blues

Starting with the song that inspired this post felt appropriate. Worried Life Blues was written by American blues pianist Major Merriweather, better known as Big Maceo Merriweather, and county blues artist Samuel John “Lightnin’”  Hopkins, who was known as Lightnin’ Hopkins. It was first recorded and released by Merriwater in 1941. The tune was based on Someday Baby Blues, a Sleepy John Estes song from 1935. Worried Life Blues became one of the most recorded blues standards of all time.

The Boneshakers/Let’s Straighten It Out

My longtime music friend from Germany recently brought this excellent tune to my attention. The Boneshakers were formed in the early 1990s by Was (Not Was) guitarist Randy Jacobs and Hillard “Sweet Pea” Atkinson, one of the group’s vocalists after Was (Not Was) had gone on hiatus. Let’s Straighten It Out is from The Boneshakers’ debut album Book of Spells, which appeared in January 1997. The tune was penned by blues vocalist Benny Latimore, who recorded it for his 1974 album More More More. The original is great, but this rendition is killer!

Shemekia Copeland/Salt In My Wounds

Shemekia Copeland, the daughter of Texas blues guitarist and vocalist Johnny Copeland, is an incredible blues vocalist who has released 10 albums to date. Salt In My Wounds is from her April 1998 debut Turn the Heat Up! The track was penned by blues guitarists Joe Louis Walker and Alan Mirikitani. Copeland’s delivery is riveting.

Jontavious Willis/Take Me to the Country

Next up is Jontavious Willis, a young country blues guitarist from Greenville, Ga. Taj Mahal, one of his mentors, has called him “wunderkind”. I saw Willis open up for him and Keb’ Mo’ in August 2017 and was very impressed. Mahal also executive-produced Willis’ sophomore album Spectacular Class, which appeared in April 2019. I previously reviewed it here. Following is a tune from that album, Take Me to the Country. Check this out. Not only is the guitar-playing outstanding, but the singing is great as well!

Danielle Nicole/Save Me

Danielle Nicole (né Danielle Nicole Schnebelen) is a blues and soul musician from Kansas City, Mo. Prior to releasing her solo debut Wolf Den in 2015, Nicole co-founded Kansas City soul and blues rock band Trampled Under Foot in 2000 and was their lead vocalist and bassist. The band recorded five albums before it dissolved in 2015. Save Me, co-written by Schnebelen and drummer and producer Tony Braunagel, is a tune from Nicole’s third and most recent studio album Cry No More. It features Kenny Wayne Shepherd on guitar.

Little Steven/Blues Is My Business

It may seem a bit odd to highlight Little Steven’s version of the above-noted tune that was first recorded by Etta James as The Blues Is My Business for her 26th studio Let’s Roll. James’ version is great. Little Steven (Steven Van Zandt) takes the song, which was co-written by Kevin Bowe and Todd Cherney, to the next level with a soulful rendition that reminds me of Joe Cocker. He included it on his excellent studio album Soulfire from May 2017.

Here’s the above-mentioned playlist with plenty of additional music. Hope you find something you like.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Ladies Singing The Blues And Killing It

A playlist of five outstanding female artists who may not be top of mind when you think of the blues

If somebody asked you who comes to mind when thinking of the blues, you might mention artists like B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy and Eric Clapton – all terrific choices! What else do they have in common? They are all men! Sure, if you dig the genre, you’ve probably also listened to Etta James, Janis Joplin and Bonnie Raitt, and perhaps even to early trailblazers like Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Big Mama Thornton. But I bet you likely wouldn’t have included them in your answer to the above question. At least I can safely say that for myself!

Just like in so many other professions, music is yet another field where women oftentimes don’t get the credit they deserve. And it seems to me this is even more so the case for the blues compared to some other genres like jazz where you’d probably name Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone, or soul where you’d likely include Aretha Franklin or Tina Turner when asked the above question.

The idea behind this playlist is fairly simple: Celebrate five female artists who shine at singing the blues. And to make this more interesting, I’m excluding some of the obvious choices like Etta James or Janis Joplin. All of the songs appear on the artists’ most recent albums from this year.

I’d like to give credit where credit is due. All of the artists highlighted in this post were included in an Apple Music blues playlist that was served up to me as a listening suggestion. When some of their names rang a bill, I decided to check the site of blues aficionado and fellow music blogger Music Enthusiast – BTW, a blog I can recommend to any music fan and guitarist! And, yep, he previously included four of the five artists on his blog. So kudos to Apple Music and Music Enthusiast!

I still think this doesn’t change the premise of this post, which is that female blues artists oftentimes don’t get the recognition they deserve. And while I’m under no illusion that this post isn’t coming anywhere close to making up for this unfortunate state of affairs, I guess it’s one post at a time. So with that, let’s finally get to it, shall we?

Kicking off the list is Lindsay Beaver with Too Cold To Cry. She doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry. Maybe somebody should change that. Luckily, she has a website, and according to the bio there, Beaver is a drummer, songwriter and bandleader from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. To date, she has self-released five albums with her band The 24th Street Wailers, of which she produced three. BTW, how many female record producers can you name? Just saying. This could be a good topic for another post. Written by Beaver, Too Cold To Cry appears on her new album Tough As Love, which was only released two weeks ago. As this clip suggests, Beaver seems to be one hell of a firecracker!

Next up: Shemekia Copeland and Ain’t Got Time For Hate. This blues vocalist, who was born in Harlem, New York is the daughter of Texas blues guitarist and singer Johnny Copeland. The tune is from an album called America’s Child, which came out in August. In addition to Copeland’s powerful voice, I dig the timely lyrics: Black and white/Gran or ten/Every woman/Child and man/Rich or poor/Gay or straight/We ain’t got time for hate… Well said!

Another gem is Shine Bright by Marcia Ball. This blues singer and kickass pianist from Vinton, La. has been around for a very long time. How long? How about 1970! Since 1972 she’s released 18 records. Shine Bright is the title track of her most recent album, which appeared in April. Check out this clip, which is actually a stripped back live take of the studio version. I can highly recommend the latter as well. I know this may sound a bit silly, but if you’d meet this lady in the street, unless you knew her, would you ever guess what a smoking hot artist she is – damn!

Danielle Nicole is a blues and soul musician from Kansas City, Mo. Prior to releasing her solo debut Wolf Den in 2015, Nicole co-founded Kansas City soul and blues rock band Trampled Under Foot in 2000 (a nod to Led Zeppelin?) and was their lead vocalist. The band recorded five albums before it dissolved in 2015. Here’s Crawl, a nice blues rocker from Nicole’s third solo record Cry No More from February.

The last outstanding artist I’d like to highlight in this post is Bettye LaVette. This singer-songwriter from Muskegon, Mich. also has been around for a long time. In fact, she recorded her first single My Man – He’s A Lovin’ Man as a 16-year-old in 1962. Things Have Changed is the title track of LaVette’s last studio album from January – a collection of tunes written and originally sung by Bob Dylan. In this case, Dylan first released the song as a single in May 2000. It was part of a soundtrack from a motion picture called Wonder Boys.

Admittedly, I still don’t know much about the above artists. But based on the songs in this post and a few other tunes I’ve sampled from the corresponding albums, it’s obvious to me how top-notch each of them is. You can bet I’m going to further explore them.

Sources: Wikipedia, Lindsay Beaver website, YouTube