“With equal power and finesse”

Shemekia Copeland came to bat swinging for her performance on Sept. 26 in her adopted hometown of Chicago. If the anointed Queen of the Blues had been performing at nearby Wrigley Field instead of the Old Town School of Folk Music, she would have hit a grand slam. […] She has the vocal range to deliver blistering rockers, slow blues numbers and gospel-tinged soul with equal power and finesse.

Copeland began the concert with the title track to Outskirts Of Love, and she concluded it with an encore, “It’s 2 A.M.” (from her 2000 album, Wicked). In between, Copeland dug infinitely deeper with a pair of songs from her 1998 debut album, Turn The Heat Up: “Married To The Blues,” a ballad, was heartrending and powerful, while “Ghetto Child” was spine-tingling and emotionally charged. […]

As a mature performer, Copeland has learned to skillfully segue through musical styles and subject matter. She shifted seamlessly from the r&b number “I Feel A Sin Coming On,” in which she plays the unrepentant temptress, to 2009’s spiritual rouser “Big Brand New Religion,” with the introduction, “I want to take y’all to my Grandma Jessie’s North Carolina church.” The audience was ready to testify, standing as one and clapping as if they were in the front pews.

The singer may have familial roots in the Deep South, but she was actually born and bred in New York City, and her introduction to show business came in the clubs of Harlem. Her vocal inflection is more urbane than most blues singers, giving her a style that appeals to a broad audience —but with no danger of sounding like an interloper.

By Jeff Johnson in DownBeat Magazine.

Read the full review of Shemekia’s show at the Old Town School of Folk Music  in Chicago on DownBeat MagazineLOGO downbeat