Never Going Back is Shemekia Copeland’s first release on Telarc Blues, but her fifth album all told. She is the daughter of blues guitarist and singer Johnny Copeland, and she got her start at 16 years of age, opening for her father. She has worked with Dr. John, Steve Cropper and Ruth Brown and has won three W.C. Handy Awards. She’s 30 years old and stands strongly on her own feet on this new CD.
She surrounds herself with a great band, including Oliver Wood, Arthur Neilsen and Marc Ribot on guitars; bassist Ted Pecchio; John Medeski and Ike Stubblefield on Hammond organ and Kofi Burbridge on Wurlitzer piano, she sings a dozen soulful numbers in a voice a bit higher and clearer than long time fans might be used to. She covers tunes by Buddy and Julie Miller (“Dirty Water”), Joni Mitchell (“Black Crow”), Percy Mayfield (“River’s Invitation”) and her father (“Circumstances”) and does a selection of songs written for her. But it all begins with a song of redemption she co-wrote with John Hahn, “Sounds Like the Devil.” It’s gets things off to a fiery start, and the album never lets up.
“Never Going Back To Memphis” features one of Ribot’s angular guitar solos, while “The Truth is the Light” is framed around the slide guitar of songwriter Oliver Wood. With two organists on board, there’s plenty here for the Hammond B3 fan too. But it all comes back to Shemekia’s voice. She has the gift, all right. Her take on Joni’s “Black Crow” is soulful and quiet, she finds the blues inside Mitchell’s Saskatchewan roots. “Born a Penny” finds the groove again immediately; great drumming from Tyler Greenwell and a Cropperesque guitar solo from Ribot (or is that Wood?). “Rise Up” is a steaming slab of old fashioned blues, loud and rocking. “Big Brand New Religion” is a gospel shouter that will lift you right out of your pew. And the album closer is a tribute to Johnny Copeland with Arthur Neilsen playing acoustic rhythm guitar while Oliver Wood adding stinging electric slide. It’s a slow blues that takes Shemekia right back home.
And she thought she was Never Going Back. Sounds more like she never went away.
(Telarc Blues, 2009)