Shemekia Copeland – Outskirts of Love (2015)

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Shemekia Copeland returns to Alligator Records for Outskirts of Love (out September 11, 2015), but little else has changed for this bonafide blues belter. On both counts, that’s great news.

Copeland has done nothing less than bring the blues into the twenty-first century with its integrity intact during her first stint with the highly regarded roots label over four long players between 1998 and 2006. Since then, Copeland has honed her swaggering brand of rock-infused blues, finding the perfect collaborator in producer, songwriter and guitarist Oliver Wood, who has a knack for writing tunes that suit Copeland so well, you’re convinced she wrote them herself.

She’s particularly authoritative when she sings of stories people with broken lives and high hopes (“Outskirts of Love,” “Cardboard Box,” a duet with Alvin Youngblood Hart), dealing bravely with the aftermath of sexual abuse (“Crossbone Beach”, “Drivin’ Out of Nashville”) and staving off temptation (“I Feel A Sin Going On”).

Wood once again surrounds Copeland with prime musicians. Beyond the base trio of Wood, Jano Rix (drums, keys) and Lex Price (bass), Will Kimbrough adds lead guitar half of the tracks, Robert Randolph is there for a steel guitar on “Crossbone Beach” and Billy Gibbons is on hand to contribute to a stompin’ urban blues take on ZZ Top’s “Jesus Just Left Chicago.” With Gibbons’ slowhand guitar and Price’s swampy bass backing up Copeland’s confident vocal, it’s the equal of the original.

Shemekia honors her father, the late Johnny Copeland, with a boss shuffling take on the elder Copeland’s “Devil’s Hand.” The aforementioned “Drivin’ Out of Nashville” is an interesting detour into country where Copeland shows a natural mastery of the idiom. Then again, she explains why in the chorus with the line “country music ain’t nothing but blues with a twang.” The final number “Lord, Help The Poor And Needy” is given a stripped down arrangement appropriate for Jessie Mae Hemphill’s gospel tune, but that acoustic bass walk paired with Copeland’s vocal gives it a jazzy flavor not too unlike “Fever” as Peggy Lee recorded it.

There’s no let up in Shemekia Copeland found on Outskirts of Love; her hold on the Queen of the Blues crown is as firm as ever.

Feature photo: Sandrine Lee

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