It’s hard to set yourself apart in the blues world these days. Concept remains an effective way of doing it, and Popovic, with the help of a host of New Orleans–based musicians, achieves this on the three-disc set Trilogy, divided into sections titled “Morning,” “Mid-Day” and “Midnight.”
The “Morning” disc, recorded primarily at Esplanade Studios, is a hot funk session manned by Ivan Neville on keys and backing vocals and featuring George Porter Jr. on bass and backing vocals, Raymond Weber on drums and backing vocals, Erica Falls on backing vocals and a horn section including Mark Mullins on trombone and Jason Mingledorff on tenor saxophone. “She Was a Doorman” is an outstanding track on this lively set. Joe Bonamassa sits in on guitar for “Train” and Robert Randolph adds lap steel guitar to “Hook Me Up.”
“Mid-Day” is a hard-edged blues rock disc that features Popovic’s guitar playing and singing on some strong original material and covers of Chaka Khan’s “You Got the Love” and Curtis Mayfield’s “Let’s Do It Again,” done with an Al Kapone hip-hop break. Aside from the latter, this disc is what fans of Popovic have come to expect of her.
The real surprise here comes at “Midnight,” Popovic’s departure into the world of jazz with Delfeayo Marsalis producing and Misha Kachkachishvili engineering back at Esplanade. Marsalis brings drummer Herlin Riley and bassist David Pulphus into the mix and adds gorgeous horn arrangements played by New Orleanians Khari Allen Lee, Roderick Paulin and Marsalis himself that bring out a different side of Popovic’s vocals and guitar playing. She handles the Oliver Nelson–style treatment of Tom Waits’ “New Coat of Paint” with sassy aplomb and caresses Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood,” doubling her vocal on guitar. Perhaps her greatest moment is her treatment of the Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley vehicle “The Old Country” (listed here as “Old Country.”) Popovic demonstrates real control of a difficult swing arrangement on this one. In the end this sprawling, ambitious record reminds me a lot of our own Leslie Smith. I hope we get to hear more of these different aspects of Popovic’s talents.