Chicago Reader: “Hard-driving, roots-rich ensemble”
When 19-year-old Shemekia Copeland exploded onto the blues scene in 1998 with Turn the Heat Up (Alligator), the reaction was immediate: adjectives like “sizzling,” “storming,” and “incendiary” began following her around like starstruck groupies; some reviewers even dragged relics like the dreaded “red-hot blues mama” out of storage to describe her.
Overheated as some of the encomiums may have been, most captured who she was as an artist pretty well, but some of them missed the mark: Within the intensity Copeland poured into virtually every song, she seemed to be singing from the depths of hard-won experience, delivering “grown folks’ music” before she was even out of her teens.
In the years since, she has further expanded her thematic and emotional range by delving into such hot-button themes as religious hypocrisy (“Sounds Like the Devil,” “Somebody Else’s Jesus”), domestic violence (“Ain’t Gonna Be Your Tattoo”), and date rape (“Crossbone Beach”).
On this year’s America’s Child, she augments her usual hard-driving, roots-rich ensemble with such guests as John Prine, Rhiannon Giddens, Steve Cropper, and Emmylou Harris. Throughout the record, she summons a persona that’s both righteous and welcoming: “Ain’t Got Time for Hate,” “Americans,” and “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” are celebrations of free will, diversity, and tolerance. On “One I Love” her protagonist is a woman in an unspecified unconventional relationship taking on the haters, and —as if to remind some of her less-than-woke listeners where her music really comes from and what it really means— “In The Blood Of The Blues” is a jubilant, unabashedly militant proclamation of its living African diaspora heritage.
By David Whiteis in the Chicago Reader, before Shemekia’s performance at the City Winery in Chicago, on December 26 and 27, 2018.