Soul as deep as the sea, a voice that can obliterate a room in raw power without a mic, and a message of love and acceptance full of heart.
Shemekia Copeland is, by any definition, an absolute powerhouse. The electric sense of love and acceptance that radiates from the stage out into the audience is without a doubt some of the most beautiful and widely accepting energy that can pass into a room.
That she tackles hate and acceptance in the opening song (Ain’t Got Time For Hate), a song that extolls not just the injustices of the racial divide but the multitude of minority divides that are often left under represented in a sometimes conservative community. That she didn’t leave out the minority of religions, of sexual orientation, race, economic circumstance, and gender is something that is truly a breath of fresh air from any genre.
And having seen Shemekia twice now, I expected no less.
Shemekia Copeland brings grace, quick wit, and soulful voice to the stage that is every bit worthy of being put shoulder to shoulder with the biggest, best known, and most highly regarded singers the Blues and Soul communities has ever produced.
Names like KoKo Taylor, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Sister Rosetta, Big Mama Thornton and Tina Turner just to name the female artists alone! Standing equally tall amongst the, often genre dominating, male artists throughout history as well.
Shemekia is truly a gift to not just our community but to music in its entirety.
Throughout the night she returned to the themes of love and acceptance. She brought the energy of her father through as she has with each album in a meaningful way. Her rendition of “Devil’s Hand” which she released the same year her father, Johnny Copeland, was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, was nothing short of a barn burner. With a rocking guitar and her powerful voice brought to bear on a song built for dancing, she cranked the party on up another notch.
Balancing out the scales of theology was a fantastic performance of “Stand Up And Testify.” Bringing to mind the raucous and high energy southern churches where big hats, dancing on chairs, shouting, and passing out in the aisle was and is a reality. (They really did/do exist, I promise.) Speaking of her grandmothers church, where she visited on one of the 28 days a week her grandmother went, she describes the scene in a fashion that leaves little to the imagination. But you’ll have to go see her to get that description because there’s no way I can do it justice here.
In what is one of my absolute favorite stories that she tells, is of her work with Blues in the Schools where a grade school population were asked to pick their favorite “Shemekia song” for her to perform and her reaction to the outcome. By the way, the song is “The Other Woman.” She’s got it right, school is a scary place!
It was an absolute pleasure to hear and see her perform the piece she played at The White House, “Beat Up Old Guitar.” An event where she also sang backup to Mick Jagger at his personal request. The band scaled back to just her and her lead guitarist, Arthur Neilson, it became an intimate look into the past of not just her family and life, but of the history of the music too. Where artists of great stature in the Blues are often left with not nearly the recognition they deserved in their own time. It warms my heart to see that appreciation appearing more and more now, and that it has both informed her passion for the music as well as being bestowed upon the singer herself correctly in her time now.
One of the most antithetically named and written songs for a Blues artist I can think of is the track “Never Going Back To Memphis.”
Something she WILL be doing this year as she is nominated for 5 Blues Music Awards.
A thematic song that tells the story of a woman who was left holding the bag while her man broke the law and either scarpered leaving her for another woman or having died instead. It’s one of my favorites of hers because she so evocatively paints not just the physical but the emotional scene and feeling of the story. She lends word and color to the emotions running through the story.
The band that stands firmly at her side are a truly fantastic blend of Funk, Soul, Folk, and Blues.
Her bass player, Kevin Jenkins, holds down a tight rhythm that oozes soul and can quickly bend funk right into a song and color it solidly blue. No matter the song you can feel the joy and emotion that comes rolling out of that man through his bass, and you’ll enjoy every minute.
Paired off with the drummer, Robin Gould, the pair make for a driving rhythm section that fill the line with a solid driving beat and at times a full rich and gentle current to the music. Robin himself tackles the drums like a man possessed in the best possible way. Full of energy and passion, the love of the music is plainly evident.
Her lead guitarist, Arthur Neilson, plays a shredding guitar to the absolute delight of the fans, and can bend a string and hit a slide in such a way that it’s not just mere sound and effect but emotion and imagery. Watching the two of them play off of each other you can see why they have been performing together for over 20 years. A mutual respect and mischievous sense of humor bent towards fun and the unexpected are self evident to even a casual observer.
Also on guitar is Ken ‘Willie’ Scandlyn. His solo work is a thing of beauty. Trading off with Arthur they both alternate the lead guitar position and both are gifted. I truly enjoyed his slide work as well as his picking at the head of the guitar to bring an unusual and perfectly placed sound into the music where you wouldn’t really expect to find such a sound. Especially not coming from an electric guitar he can absolutely wail on.
Also as a special guest was the talented Ilana Katz Katz and her electric fiddle! (Look for a review with more detail of Ilana to post soon!)
I can’t stress enough what a joy it is to see this band live. From start to finish they come in strong and take you on a ride of great music and great stories. And more than a few laughs.
Please make sure you go see them whenever you’ve the chance. I can promise you that I will. This was my second time seeing them, both times at The Bull Run Restaurant in Shirley MA. She plays throughout the New England area only a few times of year so keep track and mark your calendars!
In the meantime, I strongly urge you to pick up her latest album Americas Child. A balm against the storm of today’s troubles to be sure!
*This review was not solicited by the musicians or venue.