Johnny Copeland

Ghetto Child

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If you're talking about packaging, the flaws of this disc are considerable. Comprised of 14 songs from 1960-1990 (most from 1960-71), the unifying theme is that all of them are taking from Houston recording sessions. But while recording dates and some personnel are noted, the original labels and dates of release are not. Furthermore, although the liner notes give a reasonable overview of Copeland's career, the tracks on this specific compilation are not discussed. And, putting the boot in, the cuts are not sequenced chronologically, but arranged almost as if someone had pressed the random button on a CD remote. Now, having aired all those complaints, the music is very good. These are fiery, committed performances in which the songs and arrangements often veer as much toward soul as toward blues. That's something that works to Copeland's advantage, both because he was versatile enough to combine styles well, and because it made him stand out from legions of other journeymen bluesmen. The 1960-71 material is particularly fine for its raw and unusual qualities. 1971's "Ghetto Child," for instance, has a searing wobbly organ that sounds like it was lifted from a warped Animals record, and its flip side, "Soul Power," has respectable funk rock influences. The 1963-64 cuts benefit from some Bobby "Blue" Bland-quality horn parts, and "May the Best Man Win" has some great unexpected descending chord changes, set to a Latin-esque beat. The later performances may not be as striking, yet these too are quite respectable, and 1984's "Daily Bread" is uncommonly (for Copeland) somber, unplugged gutbucket blues. If Copeland's winding discography is ever broken up into logically sequenced compilations covering different phases of his career (which seems highly unlikely), this ragtag job might be rendered redundant. But if you can live with its patchy assembly, it's highly recommended on pure musical grounds.

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