Shemekia Copeland, America’s Child (Alligator Records)


Shemekia Copeland is a full-scale blues/R&B diva in her prime, the inheritor of a tradition that stretches back to Bessie Smith and beyond. In a world of small voices, this is a woman who could fill an auditorium with the power of her singing without amplification. Her performances at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival are already legendary and she should add to the legend at this year’s Crescent City Blues and BBQ Festival.

Copeland is no throwback, though. She is as cutting edge as it gets, one of the stars of the Americana movement, and America’s Child features a strong supporting cast of Americana figures led by producer/guitarist Will Kimbrough and featuring contributions from John Prine, Rhiannon Giddens, Mary Gauthier, Emmylou Harris, Steve Cropper, J.D. Wilkes and Al Perkins. The album comes 20 years after her debut Turn the Heat Up and shows how far she’s come in that time.

Copeland has grown from working through traditional blues and R&B standards to personalized life observations and inspirational statements. On America’s Child she steps up to the plate to address the ills of our fractured society and offer hope for the future in the statement-of-purpose opener “Ain’t Got Time for Hate.” She shows her sensitivity in a spectacular duet with Prine, “Great Rain,” and once again pays tribute to her father, the great blues vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Johnny Copeland, with a cover of his “Promised Myself” featuring Cropper. The always-unpredictable Shemekia goes well into left field for a powerful rendition of the Ray Davies classic “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” coining an instant blues classic. At a moment in music history when a lot of people are wondering what happened to the verities of great singers singing great songs, Shemekia shows that we’re still not that far from home.