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Shemekia Copeland's stunning "America's Child" LP captures country's current mood

Alligator Records
"America's Child" is the latest album from blues-roots-rocker Shemekia Copeland.
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ALBUM REVIEW – America’s Child by Shemekia Copeland (Alligator Records) 2018

The new album from contemporary blues singer Shemekia Copeland – aptly titled America’s Child – is a record for its time and place. It hits hard – musically, lyrically, spiritually.  

The Grammy-nominated Copeland, the daughter of Grammy Award-winning blues musician Johnny Copeland (who died in 1997), has been gathering steam for years as her sometimes sultry, sometimes assertive, and sometimes roaring voice grabs the listener’s ear and compels them to listen to each word. Each note.

For me, I’ll be literally on the edge of my seat as I listen to her. And with this stunning record, released in August on Chicago-based Alligator Records, Shemekia Copeland appears to be on the cusp of bringing her bold, bluesy sound to a far wider audience. This is a breakthrough album for Copeland and should be in every American's stocking this Christmas!

Copeland wastes no time on this Will Kimbrough-produced record (Kimbrough also plays guitar on much of it) by offering up the album opener “Ain’t Got Time For Hate.” It is tuneful-yet-raw.

And is a call for every American – every human being on Earth – to come together in unity and brotherhood and realize that we can always strive to do better. This, as blues magazine Living Blues releases a new issue focusing on protest music and the blues. And Shemekia Copeland is a part of that tradition, as evidenced by the honest and uplifting songs here.

Little angel, if you survive / I know someday, you gonna fly," she sings, and you know it's true, even though the times seem as bad as they have been in a long while. We shall overcome!

And that first song sets the tone for the album. Every time I hear it, I get chills. I can imagine Woody Guthrie smiling from the Great Beyond, pleased to know that his honest and outspoken style - as emulated and shared with so many others before and since - is still stirring hearts and minds.

Note the song New Orleans-styled gospel-funk march of "Americans," co-written by Louisianan Mary Gauthier, who offers up backing vocals, alongside Emmylou Harris and Katie Pruitt. It's a celebration of the diversity of our amazing country. A song one needs to hear in these troubling times of division and hate.

Rhiannon Giddens' banjo introduces us to "Smoked Ham and Peaches," a bit of folksy fun in a world of "fake" ("sun tea with lemon peel ... give me something real") that Copeland is clearly having fun singing. And yes, Mary Gauthier penned this one as well. Clearly she is a strong influence for Copeland. In fact, to say America's Child is a straight blues album would be inaccurate. There's a lot of rootsy Americana here, and under Will Kimbrough's guidance, that makes sense (oh, and Kimbrough's picking on National Guitar also helps propel this number).

A real surprise number here is a cover of The Kinks' 1966 B-side "I'm Not Like Everybody Else" (A-side was "Sunny Afternoon"), a song Ray Davies had originally intended to give to Eric Burdon and The Animals. But The Kinks handled it well ( I mention this and the British rock band's '66 Face to Face album in my new book Rock Catapult), and Shemekia Copeland makes it her own here on America's Child.

"In the Blood of the Blues" it is clear that the blues runs through Copeland's veins. It's who she is, when you get right down to it. There's a lot of history there, and it is undeniable. And then you get "Such a Pretty Flame" and you picture Copeland on stage, alone with a microphone, under the spotlight and every eye in the room on her. And that slow burn, really is a gut punch. Wow! Stunning vocals here.

She's got plenty of sass on the rollicking "The Wrong Idea," which nearly takes it into a Southern rock direction. Can only imagine how fun this one is when performed live, particularly with the backing female vocals telling some dude at the bar to get lost.

And Steve Cropper (who produced Copeland's The Soul Truth album a decade or so ago) shows up with just the right guitar touches on "Promised Myself," written by Copeland's late, aforementioned father back in the early 1990's. 

Copeland's smoky, sensual voice envelopes "Would You Take My Blood?" I hear that soulful sound and it sends chills down my spine. She is utterly bewitching and you want to hear more and more!

She concludes the album with the traditional folk song "Go to Sleepy Little Baby," a lullabye (she is a new mother, we should note) that was also included in O Brother, Where Art Thou? where the bumbling trio comes upon three Sirens washing their clothes in a river. 

I cannot emphasize enough how amazingly good America's Child is. I am now a serious, serious fan of Copeland's latest album and will be digging deeper into her whole body of work. I urge you, dear reader, to do that as well.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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