Blues singer Shemekia Copeland was barely of legal age when she signed the Alligator Records deal that resulted in her 1998 debut, Turn The Heat Up. The daughter of Texas blues guitar legend Johnny Copeland, Shemekia began singing at an early age, launching her career in earnest at the age of 16, touring with her father as his opening act. Modeling herself on such larger-than-life figures as Koko Taylor and Etta James, Copeland is no mere soul shouter, but a singer of great talent capable of both power and nuance.
While opening for her father brought the younger Copeland both attention and curiosity alike, nothing could have prepared blues fans for the hurricane-strength performances at the heart of Turn The Heat Up, a debut album so self-assured, mature, sassy, and full of humor that you'd think that the 19-year-old singer had already experienced a lifetime of joy and heartbreak. Copeland followed up her acclaimed first effort with the equally-impressive 2000 album Wicked, which earned the talented performer three Blues Music Awards, including "Blues Album of the Year" and "Contemporary Female Artist of the Year."
Shemekia Copeland's Deluxe Edition
Copeland followed Wicked with 2002's Talking To Strangers, which won the singer another trio of Blues Music Awards, and 2005's The Soul Truth, which earned her a slew of award nominations. To document Copeland's time on the label, Alligator has released Deluxe Edition, a "best of" album, of sorts, compiling 16 songs from her four Alligator records into one dynamite introductory collection. If you've been living under a rock since Copeland's 1998 debut, only one spin of "Turn The Heat Up," which opens Deluxe Edition, will suffice to convince you of Copeland's unmatched enthusiasm, energy, and mastery of the blues.
You'll find very little dross...if any...among the 16 gems on Copeland's Deluxe Edition. "Turn The Heat Up" is a real barn-burner that fairly sizzles with lust that's tempered by a sly sense of humor. Copeland's performance is passionate and yet casual, bolstered by Jimmy Vivino's stellar fretwork, the soulful brass of The Uptown Horns, and an altogether infectious and fluid rhythm. Copeland's original "Ghetto Child" displays her growing songwriting skills, the timeless yet all-too-topical lyrics matched by Mike Welch's distinctive guitar playing and Copeland's incredibly heartfelt vocals.
Better Not Touch
"Better Not Touch," from Copeland's underrated The Soul Truth, is a funky slice of uptown R&B with icy blasts of horn, a slippery rhythm, and a truly gymnastic vocal turn by Copeland. With legendary Stax Records guitarist Steve Cropper delivering muted but impressive fretwork, the song is nevertheless dominated by Copeland's raucous vocals. From Wicked, "Wild, Wild Woman" rocks harder than most of Copeland's material, with her shouted vox soaring above Vivino's solid rhythm guitar, guitarist Arthur Neilson's blistering solos, and Brian Mitchell's honky-tonk piano-pounding.
By contrast, "Who Stole My Radio?" is a swaggering, Stax-flavored funk-blues number with plenty of Cropper's twangy chicken-picking, lots of horn, and a bouncy, energetic vocal turn from Copeland who asks, in no uncertain terms, what happened to the music we used to love? The lovely "Stay A Little Longer, Santa" is from Alligator's Christmas album, and Copeland's purring, sensual vocals would make the man in the red suit quit the North Pole. Jumping back to her debut to finish Deluxe Edition, "Your Mama's Talking" is an up-tempo, horn-driven blues rave-up with rollicking rhythms and Copeland's growling, playful vocals.
The Reverend's Bottom Line
Shemekia Copeland's Deluxe Edition provides an abundance of classic-styled blues and soul performances from one of the truly great young talents of today's blues. Although clearly modeling her performances on an earlier generation of blues and R&B vocalists, Copeland breaths fire into every song she grabs, making it her own and turbo-charging it with energy, passion, and charisma.
If you haven't discovered Copeland by now, grab a copy of Deluxe Edition and then start saving your pennies...'cause one listen to this stuff and you're going to want to buy it all. She's just that damn good! (Alligator Records, released January 18, 2011)
Guide Disclosure: A review copy of this CD, DVD, or book was provided by the record label, publisher, or publicist. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.