Listen Up: Wednesday, May 15, 2003
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Shemekia Copeland

Talking to Strangers (Alligator Records)

By Ken Shimamoto

Back in 1998, she inaugurated her recording career with Alligator Records. (For your convenience, just remember: If the label is named after an animal, it’s a blues label. See: Blind Pig, Rooster Blues, TopCat, etc.) Since then, frequent Bedford Blues Festival headliner Shemekiah Copeland has done an admirable job of filling the Koko Taylor gap.

Daughter of the late Texas guitarist Johnny Copeland, Shemekiah’s got the same kind of formidable, gospel-trained pipes as Etta James or Taylor (whom I saw at Austin’s Soap Creek Saloon in the ’70s, a fond memory in spite of the fact that I was forced to dance with a woman a full head taller and a whole lot meaner than I was).

On Talking to Strangers, she’s teamed with Nawlins R&B originator Mack “Dr. John” Rebennack, who produced, played keyboards, and wrote some songs. The results are kinda reminiscent of ... Little Feat. At their best, the Feat boys were tops at emulating the distinctive “second-line” sound of classic Crescent City rhythm sections. The supple, keyboard-driven groove and snaky slide guitar here recall both the salad and, um, cocaine days of that great band.

Not that everything on Talking to Strangers is upbeat. In fact, the ballad offerings (“Don’t Whisper” and the title track) would fit nicely into the rotation on 89.3/KNON-FM’s morning soul-blues show, with the added advantage of featuring real keyboard sounds.

Shemekiah Copeland is a rarity in contemporary blues — an artist with the gumption to try something different, if not completely new. Her beauty parlor ode “Sholanda’s” is the first song I can recall that includes a reference to Jheri Curl. And who can resist a line like “Get yourself a bikini wax / Give your man a heart attack”? Sisters are, indeed, doin’ it for themselves. Shall we dance?


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