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

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Tedeschi Trucks Band’s I Am The Moon Called Their Most Ambitious Studio Project to Date

Part II: I Am The Moon: III. The Fall & I Am The Moon: IV. Farewell

Last Friday (Aug 26), Tedeschi Trucks Band released I Am The Moon: IV. Farewell, the fourth and final installment of their I Am the Moon four-album series. This is the second part of my review of what has been called the band’s most ambitious studio effort to date. You can read the first part here.

Borrowing from my previous post, I Am the Moon is a series of four albums, each accompanied by a film, with a total of 24 songs. The extraordinary project was inspired by a 12th-century Persian poem. Intriguingly, the very same poem also inspired one of the greatest blues rock albums of all time: Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, by Derek and the Dominos.

Tedeschi Trucks Band: Led by Susan Tedeschi (guitar, vocals) and Derek Trucks (guitar), the group also includes original members Tyler Greenwell (drums, percussion), Mike Mattison (harmony vocals), Mark Rivers (harmony vocals) and Kebbi Williams (saxophone). Isaac Eady (drums & percussion), Alecia Chakour (harmony vocals), Elizabeth Lea (trombone), Ephraim Owens (trumpet), Brandon Boone (bass) and Gabe Dixon (keyboards & vocals) complete the current 12-piece lineup

I Am The Moon is the fifth studio effort by Tedeschi Trucks Band, who were founded in 2010 and are led by married couple Susan Tedeschi (guitar, vocals) and Derek Trucks (guitar). After touring together in 2007 as the Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi’s Soul Stew Revival, Trucks and Tedeschi merged their respective groups to create a mighty 11-piece band. In 2015, they added another member and have since been a 12-piece – what an army of musicians!

The project was inspired by Layla and Majnun, a poem written by Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi. The romantic narrative poem has been called the “Romeo and Juliet of the East” by English poet Lord Byron, who according to Wikipedia is considered one of the greatest English poets and a leading figure of the Romantic movement.

I’d say it’s time to get to some music. Let’s start with two tracks off I Am The Moon: III. The Fall, which was released on July 29. Here’s the opener Somehow, penned by the band’s keyboarder and vocalist Gabe Dixon, together with external songwriter Tia Sillers. The album’s accompanying essay by renowned American music journalist David Fricke describes the tune as “an easy-rolling groove that soon turns into full-blown soul power.” I could totally picture Bonnie Raitt singing it – love this!

Yes We Will is more bluesy. Penned by Susan Tedeschi, the tune is much closer to what I had associated with Tedeschi Trucks Band before listening to I Am The Moon. From Fricke’s essay: “Derek and I have so many blues roots,” she says, “and I really wanted to show those roots, where this band is at.” The result is early-Seventies B.B. King arm in arm with the Staple Singers, while the guitar breaks affirm the rise-and-shine in the lyrics and Tedeschi’s vocal. Come on, wake up people, can’t you see it now? Time is right now, she declares as Mattison, Mark Rivers and Alecia Chakour bring the train-to-glory in the chorus. You can’t help but believe it. Great song!

Here’s a Spotify link to I Am The Moon: III. The Fall:

Here’s the companion film for the third album:

On to I Am The Moon: IV. Farewell. My first pick here is Soul Sweet Song, co-written by Derek Trucks, Gabe Dixon and the band’s harmony vocalist Mike Mattison. From Fricke’s album essay: “That was Gabe,” Trucks says of Dixon, who co-wrote this song with the guitarist and Mattison. “He had the idea of writing it about Kofi” – original TTB keyboard player Kofi Burbridge, who was ill when Dixon joined in late 2018, at first on a temporary basis. (Burbridge died in February 2019, on the day his last album with the group, Signs, was released.) “Gabe writing lyrics about Kofi (I feel your rhythm moving me/’Cause your soul’s sweet song’s still singing) – that one hit me between the eyes.” A special guest on congas, Marc Quiñones – a longtime bandmate with Trucks in the Allman Brothers Band – adds a decisive and familiar, rhythmic element to the celebration.

The last track I’d like to call out is I Can Feel You Smiling, which perfectly sums up my sentiment about this album series. One last time quoting from Fricke’s album essay: This sparsely arranged ballad “was fun to write,” says Trucks, who “woke up in the morning, had the tune and put it on my phone. It reminded me of something Oliver Wood” – singer-guitarist in the Wood Brothers and a longtime friend of TTB – “would have written, so I sent it to him. He wrote back, ‘Man, I woke up the last few days with that melody in my head. Do you mind if I write something to it?’ I’m like, ‘Have at it, man.'” Wood sent back “this beautiful recording with one verse and a chorus, and I was like ‘Okay, that song’s done!'” Dixon contributed as well, underscoring the group work ethic – in composing, arranging and performance – that produced every song on I Am The Moon.

Here’s a Spotify link to the fourth album:

And here’s the companion film to I Am The Moon: IV. Farewell.

I Am The Moon is a massive project, so there’s a lot to take in here. While I knew Tedeschi Trucks Band were top-notch musicians, I really didn’t expect them to be as soulful as they are on these four albums. Admittedly, at least part of it could be plain ignorance. In any case, I really dig what this group has done here. Now I feel like seeing them. After four big-ticket shows back in June, it is going to have to wait!

Sources: Tedeschi Trucks Band website; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

While sadly my time to blog and read posts by my fellow music bloggers has been very limited over the past couple of weeks, the good news is the music never stops. It’s great to see this includes decent new releases. I’m particularly excited about new music by Bruce Springsteen, one of my all-time favorite artists. This installment of Best of What’s New also features two great blues artists and a soulful roots/Americana singer-songwriter. Let’s get to it.

Bruce Springsteen/Letter to You

Bruce Springsteen announced a new album with the E Street Band on September 10. Letter to You, his 20th album, is slated for October 23. The Boss and his band mates recorded it at his home studio in just five days. The album features nine recently written tracks and three re-recorded but previously unreleased songs from the ’70s. Springsteen’s website characterized Letter to You as a rock album fueled by the band’s heart-stopping, house-rocking signature sound. Apparently, Springsteen is pretty upbeat about it. “I love the emotional nature of Letter To You,” he stated. “And I love the sound of the E Street Band playing completely live in the studio, in a way we’ve never done before, and with no overdubs… It turned out to be one of the greatest recording experiences I’ve ever had.” Here’s the official video of the title track. Sounds like classic Boss to me and I can’t wait to hear the rest of the album!

Al Basile/Second Wind

When it comes to the blues, you rarely can go wrong, in my completely unbiased opinion. So I was a happy camper when I came across Second Wind by Al Basile – yet another artist I don’t believe I had heard of before, even though he’s been around for close to 50 years! According to his website, Basile began his musical career as a cornet player with Roomful of Blues in 1973, and has worked with the Duke Robillard Band as a songwriter and recording member since 1990, appearing on twelve CDs and a DVD; his songs have been used in films and television and covered by such artists as Ruth Brown and Johnny Rawls, and bands New Jump Blues and the Knickerbocker All Stars. He has fifteen solo blues and roots CDs out under his own name, the majority having reached the top 15 on the Living Blues airplay charts in their year of release. They have all been produced by Robillard and feature his guitar playing and many former Roomful members...He is also a prize-winning poet, with two published books, 2011’s A Lit House and 2017’s Tonesmith. But unlike Brian May, Basile is not an astrophysicist – what an underachiever! Second Wind is a tune from Basile’s new album Last Hand, which appeared on August 21.

Kat Riggins/No Sale

And what’s even better than the blues? Of course, more blues, especially when it’s delivered by a great vocalist and rocks! From the website of Kat Riggins, a blues artist born in the blues capital of the world Miami: Inspired by the variety and abundance of music in her parents’ collection, it makes sense that her own music is peppered with hints of R&B, soul, country, gospel, hip-hop, and rock-n-roll. Make no mistake; however, Kat Riggins is undeniably a BLUES WOMAN! She travels the world with the sole mission of keeping the blues alive and thriving through her Blues Revival Movement. She has been vocally compared to Koko Taylor, Etta James and Tina Turner to name a few. While obviously influenced by those icons, Mrs. Riggins has a voice and delivery all her own. Full of power, rasp and grit she can belt out one of her contemporary blues originals one minute, then deliver a tender, sultry standard the next. Based on Discogs, Riggins released her debut Lilly Rose in 2014. No Sale is a nice blues rocker off her new and fourth album Cry Out that appeared on August 14. It’s got a bit of a ZZ Top vibe. As noted in a review on Rock & Blues Muse, the album was produced by blues veteran and songwriter Mike Zito, co-founder of the record’s label Gulf Coast Records, who also played guitar.

Oliver Wood/Soul of This Town

Soul of This Town is the debut solo single by guitarist Oliver Wood, who since 2004 has been playing together with his brother Chris Wood (upright bass) and Jano Rix (drums) in roots/Americana trio The Wood Brothers. Prior to that, he was part of Tinsley Ellis’ touring lineup and headed his own band King Johnson that released six albums over a 12-year span. Evidently, here’s another artist who has been around for 30-plus years and had escaped my attention until now. With The Wood Brothers, he has released six albums to date. Wood co-wrote Soul of This Town with Phil Cook, a singer-songwriter from Raleigh, N.C. The single was released on August 21. I can also recommend the bluesy B-side The Battle is over (But the War Goes On).

Sources: Wikipedia; Bruce Springsteen website; Al Basile website; Kat Riggins website; Discogs; Rock & Blues Muse; YouTube