The blues have long been a home for musicians who speak their minds and aren’t afraid to let their emotions show. The newest release from Shemekia Copeland, America’s Child, from Alligator Music, is as fine example of this as you’ll see today.
Recorded in Nashville with a plethora of guest stars (including Emmylou Harris, Rhiannon Giddens and John Prine) the album proves once again that the blues have as legitimate claim to being America’s music as any other genre. In the hands of as an accomplished a singer as Copeland it can also be a voice of reason, compassion, and just downright fun.
Each of the 12 tracks on the disc are powerful in their own way. From the opening “I Ain’t Got Time For Hate”, with its passionate defense of diversity, to the closing traditional lullaby, “Go To Sleepy Little Baby”, Copeland shows she can not only belt out the blues with defiance and power, she can also gentle our troubles with a metaphorical hand across our brows.
Along the way she reminds us what a powerful vehicle for social commentary the blues can be. Aside from the opening track, both the CD’s second and third songs, “Americans” and “Would You Take My Blood”, offer perspectives on life in the United States that might upset some people.
The former extols the potentials for the amazing variety of people who live in the country to find common ground: “There’s an Elvis impersonator riding in an elevator/ A Hindu from Yucatan asking to shake his hand/A slick haired deplorable thinking he’s adorable/ A sandal wearing holy fool living by the Golden Rule/A loose lipped librarian, a Republican contrarian/An orthodox Baptist Jew wondering what Jesus would do/American, American, Still free to be you and me.” (Anyone else catch the reference to the old Marlo Thomas produced album ”Free To Be You and Me)
The latter doesn’t offer quite the same positive outlook on life. In fact it rubs at the wound of racism that’s still alive and well in America.”Love’s not something I expect/All I want is some respect/Call me stupid or naive/Why can’t we change what we believe/If it’s the last thing you ever do/Would you take my hand reaching out to you?/Would you take my blood?/Would you take my blood?/Or would you rather die than share your life with mine?”.
Underpinned by the amazing work of Will Kimbrough on lead guitar this song is a powerful condemnation of lengths some people will go to segregate themselves from anyone remotely different from themselves. In case your worried this CD is going to be all hard slogging and political, not to worry, Copeland has also included songs which are a little more relaxed.
There’s the humourous “The Wrong Idea”, where a woman, in no uncertain words, puts a guy hitting on her in his place. Then there’s also the beautiful “Smoke Ham and Peaches” advocating a life filled with things guaranteed to ease the soul and featuring Rhiannon Giddens on banjo. However, for pure enjoyment, Copeland’s duet with John Prine on his song “Great Rain”, is probably the highlight of the disc. The combination of his rough hewn voice and her clean singing tones is a delight to listen to.
If you’ve never heard Shemekia Copeland sing you’ve missed out on hearing one of the great vocalists in popular music. Not only can she belt out a song along the lines of Bessie Smith and Big Momma Thornton, she is equally comfortable with singing back porch blues you might hear in the Appalachians or the Carolinas.
This is a voice that reflects the entire history of African American music and makes it relevant for today’s listeners. America’s Child and Copeland prove that not only are the blues alive and thriving, they represent all of our dreams and aspirations for a better world.