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.
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