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Cirque Du Soleil
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Patricia Barber
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Cirque Du Soleil
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Jim Pearce
“Why I Haven't Got You”
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Ralph Towner
Time Line
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Anoushka Shankar

Amos Lee
"Arms Of A Woman"
Amos Lee
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Julius Curcio
"American Pie"
Alligator Shoes
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"Come Alive"
Changing Into Me
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Feature [Issue #2]
Shemekia Copeland: A Blues Powerhouse
By Pat Mavromatis
Turn The Heat Up (CD Alligator)

In a music scene inundated with neo-soul/neo-R&B divas-in-the-making and well, some wanna-be divas, one voice, one woman, shines through with a powerful mix of simple, sexy, sincere, down-and-dirty blues. Robert Plant calls her “the next Tina Turner.” I call her the next Bessie Smith meets Big Mama Thornton meets Etta James. Better yet, I call her Shemekia.

Shemekia (pronounced Sha-MEEK-ah) grew up engulfed in the blues tradition. She was born in Harlem to the late Texas blues guitar legend Johnny Clyde Copeland who nurtured her with love and music—a whole lot of music. But while she says that she indeed listened and was influenced by Etta and Bessie and Big Mama, her influenced the most by vocalists of the opposite sex. “My main influences were men,” she says. “Ottis Redding, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye.”.

At age eight, when other kids are being just kids, Shemekia joined her dad on stage at Harlem’s famed Cotton Club. Her dad knew it—she would be a singer. But she did not. “I never knew I wanted to sing until I got older,” she says. Her dad’s health eventually slowed him down and Shemekia was ready to carry the torch. “It was like a switch went off in my head,” she recalls, “I wanted to sing.”

So, Johnny Copeland (who was suffering from a heart condition which eventually beat him) started taking Shemekia with him on the road. She was just sixteen but already stealing audiences’ hearts with her deep soulful voice. And Johnny was ecstatic. “Dad wanted me to think I was helping him out by opening his shows when he was sick, but really, he was doing it all for me. He would go out and do gigs so I would get known. He went out of his way to get me that exposure,” says Shemekia about her dad...

Shemekia was on her way. In 1998 she released her debut album Turn The Heat Up on Alligator. Sadly, Johnny Copeland was not there to see this, but the whole world was. The birth of a blues diva was a fact and critical acclaim started pouring in. The album, produced by John Hahn who also co-wrote eight songs, features the great guitar work of Jimmy Vivino (you might have seen him on Conan as the Max Weinberg 7’s guitar player), the Uptown Horns (on three tunes), and guests “Monster” Mike Welch and Joe Louis Walker.

Shemekia returned in 2000 with Wicked, which was nominated for a Grammy that year. Never-ending touring brought her in front of the Monterey Jazz Festival, The San Francisco Blues Festival, The Montreaux Jazz Festival, The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and many others.

Talking To Strangers, produced by New Orleans legend Dr. John who also plays piano on the record and appears in a duet with Shemekia on The Push I Need, is Shemekia’s new album and in her own words, “the best yet.” “Working with Dr. John was such a great experience for me. He is so talented. I would come up with an idea and he would make it happen,” she tells ONE WAY.

Talking To Strangers features 15 wonderfully produced songs ready to satisfy even the most exquisite of blues tastes. From straight-ahead blues and laid-back beats, to funky and riff-oriented rockers and ballads with jazzy overtones, this album has something for everyone. “When in the studio I try to capture the feeling of playing a live show, because that’s what it’s all about” Shemekia says. “I never think about the technical stuff [microphones, the recording process, etc.]” she says. “I only think about the song and let my emotions take over. Not everything is recorded exactly how it was written. A lot of it is spur of the moment.”

She’s definitely sounding more mature than her previous efforts and her own personality as a singer is more evident. Livin’ On Love is the perfect opener with a guitar riff that will stay with you long after you put that record away. Two’s A Crowd is a powerhouse rocker of a song followed by the funky When A Woman’s Had Enough and the urban-sassy Sholanda’s, which along with Too Much Traffic, Ka-Ching, and Walk On establish Shemekia as a no-nonsense modern woman that would give her man a piece of her mind anytime and would never tell him “I’d rather go blind than see you go baby.” Don’t Whisper, Too Close, and Happy Valentine’s Day are classic leave-me-alone-with-my-whiskey blues ballads in which Shemekia’s voice whips you and caresses you at the same time. In Should Have Come Home and Talking To Strangers, the title track, one can distinguish certain reggae overtones amongst infectious grooves and clever key changes. The Push I Need is one of the best moments of the album with the Shemekia-Dr.John duet shouting: chemistry! The slow-funk beat of When The Battle Is Over and Johnny Copeland’s gospel/rock n’ roll song Pie In The Sky complete this astounding work.

One thing I would like to stress about this album is Shemekia’s vocal character and maturity. Even though she has the range and vocal ammunition to do practically anything she wants, Shemekia stays away from the redundant vocal acrobatics that burden the majority of female vocalists out there today. She knows exactly what to do and when to do it.

My gut tells me that Shemekia will keep on singing, earning new life-long admirers and fans along the way, just as her dad wanted. “My father’s music will live through me. I feel his spirit on stage every night. I’m going to keep on doing this and make my daddy proud,” she says.

I think you have, Shemekia, I think you have.

Turn The Heat Up

A Blues Powerhouse Shemekia Copeland Turn The Heat Up

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