December 29th, 2009
When I saw Shemekia Copeland back in March, she talked about turning 30 and her impending marriage. While she is by no means old, these comments recognized the passage of time and that she is no longer the 19 year-old who recorded Turn the Heat Up!, her debut back in 1998.
This recognition is reflected in the songs on Never Going Back. The big, brash sound of “It’s 2 A.M.” has been replaced with more restrained ventures into soul, gospel, and elsewhere. Lyrically, Copeland movies into a broader territory, singing about not only relationships, but also tales of the world’s sad state as well as defiance and personal strength during trying times.
“Sounds Like the Devil” is an anthem for the working class who are beset upon by promises of TV preachers and politicos which prove to be empty. Oliver Wood’s slide guitar is the star here with his tasteful licks never getting in the way of Copeland’s impassioned admonitions. “Broken World” is a soulful, if plaintive, plea for a better world with some understated backing vocals from the band.
The moody “Never Going Back to Memphis” is a lengthy slow burner. A reverbed guitar is wisely mixed to the background as it scratches out it steamy notes to allow Copeland’s vocals to take center stage. She really pulls out all the stops as the song reaches its crescendos of violence in the River City. Self-confidence shines through on the shuffling “Born A Penny” while the R&B of “Limousine” harkens back to Copeland’s previous material as she tells off a lover.
The album winds its way to a close with the gospel stomp of “Big Brand New Religion” and a little country blues on “Circumstances” by her father, blues legend Johnny Copeland.
Although the album dips its toes into the many waters of black American music, it all gels together. Copeland has a band that is more than up to the task of creating an album of varied styles that works. Wood’s tasteful guitar work is a constant here but drummer Tyler Greenwell and bassist Ted Pecchio deserve a lot of credit as well. They play exactly what’s needed as the bottom end is held down and throw in the occasional fill or run to add a little something extra. But above it all is Copeland’s voice. Her ability to belt it out has already been proven but on Never Going Back she shows that restraint is also a part of her vocal bag of tricks.
Shemekia Copeland will be in Madison next on 25 February at the Majestic Theatre.