33 1/3

Shemekia Copeland

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33 1/3 Review

by Hal Horowitz

Singer Shemekia Copeland must have been pleased with the way 2009's Never Going Back turned out because she returns to the well and again employs the services of the Wood Brothers' Oliver Wood as producer/guitarist, and some of the same backing musicians, on this follow-up released three years later. As on the last disc, there is a decided shift away from the sassy blues belter style that powered her Alligator catalog (the disc is dedicated to Koko Taylor, an obvious role model) to a still rootsy but more reserved rock/gospel/R&B groove. She addresses serious socio-political topics of violence against women in the Robert Cray-styled "Ain't Gonna Be Your Tattoo" (which includes a fiery guest solo from Buddy Guy), phony religious demagoguery on the rollicking and very Stonesy "Somebody Else's Jesus," and the depressing economic climate circa 2012 on the opening "Lemon Pie." These tracks were co-written with Copeland's longtime manager John Hahn and guitarist/producer Wood, who seem to make a good songwriting team. Her covers of Bob Dylan (a stripped-down, swamped-up, "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight"), Sam Cooke (a percussively peppy "Ain't that Good News") and JJ Grey's churchy "A Woman" (with a wild, nearly unhinged pedal steel solo from Charlie Starr) are terrific rearrangements of these tunes, and she sings them with passion and conviction. Wood taps his Atlanta-based side project Burnt Bacon for frontman Jon Liebman (ex-Sean Costello) who blows sizzling electrified harp on the deep Chicago vibe of "I Sing the Blues," the album's bluesiest and toughest performance. As usual, Copeland covers one of her dad Johnny's compositions; this time it's the jazzy soul of "One More Time." The singer was only 33 1/3 years old at the time of this album's 2012 release which, along with her love of vinyl, accounts for its title. Still, she sounds older and wiser than her chronological years would dictate, as she energizes these terrific songs with guts, power, and a restraint powered by experience and natural talent.

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