Shemekia Copeland

Deluxe Edition

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The daughter of blues icon Johnny Copeland may not be the template for sassy, blues-based soul shouting -- there are plenty of similarly styled women in blues history -- but her tough, brassy vocals and female-empowered songs quickly made her one of the most popular contemporary female artists in the genre after her 1998 Alligator debut. The label released four albums from the singer, all pretty much in the same vein, through 2005, after which she took a four-year break and reappeared on the Telarc imprint with a redefined approach. This hour-plus compilation successfully grabs 15 highlights, adds a snappy Christmas song originally included on an Alligator holiday anthology, and provides a snapshot for those who want a sampler of Copeland's talents. While the strutting, harder-edged music, often including horns, is a significant part of Copeland's résumé and substantially represented here, the compilers have included some jazzy and more subtle performances that show she is comfortable dialing down the vocal fire power when needed. There's also a funky side to her personality, represented by the Tower of Power-styled "Better Not Touch" from 2005's The Soul Truth and 2002's "When a Woman's Had Enough." The disc ignores a strict chronological presentation for one that flows musically. Many of these songs were written specifically for Copeland -- she gets a writing co-credit on five --so the sound and lyrical themes remain relatively consistent, even through seven years. Since all of her discs had a similar groove, the result is more than just a batch of good tunes played and sung with conviction, but a smartly calculated summation that plays like a unified whole. In addition to gritty blues-rockers like the Stones/Chuck Berry-inspired flamethrower "Wild, Wild Woman," Copeland wrings real soul from ballads such as "Don't Whisper" and especially an intimate reading of her father's "Ghetto Child," both with a surprisingly sympathetic and sensitive touch. She's even convincing on the lone acoustic Delta blues "Beat Up Guitar," an enticing side road that might be worth exploring again in the future. Copeland's 2009 Telarc release reveals new directions for her, but this wrap-up does a terrific job of summarizing these crucial early years in her professional development.

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