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Shemekia Copeland: Done Come Too Far
(Alligator Records, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 8/17/2022)
The blues, that great American music form that underlies jazz, rock and roll, soul and funk, can take many forms, from the acoustic country blues of its beginnings, to big production revues with large groups, elaborate stage shows and the like. But for the most part, lyrically the blues are about the things that make us blue, with less-than-perfect love affairs being the genesis of thousands of blues songs. But this week, we have a new album by a blues singer who goes well beyond the stereotypical blues songs, and has a lot to say about the world, and also has a little fun. It’s the new tenth album by one of today’s most acclaimed living blues singers, Shemekia Copeland, called Done Come Too Far.
Shemekia Copeland as born into the blues. A native of Harlem, she is the daughter of the late Texas bluesman Johnny Clyde Copeland. She was joining him on stage by age 10, dedicating herself to becoming a regular performer by age 16, and then as her father’s health began to decline, she took on an increasing role in her father’s performances, and served as his opening act.
In 1998, a year after graduating from high school, she released her debut album, called Turn the Heat Up! And she has been recording and keeping a busy schedule on the road since then.
In 2018, after she became a mother, she and her songwriting partner John Hahn, began to turn her attention to the larger issues, thinking about the world her young African American son would grow up in. She released America’s Child, and followed that with Uncivil War in 2020, which was one of our top albums on the Graham Awards that year.
Now she is out with Done Come Too Far, perhaps the most lyrically incisive album of her career, with songs about reawakening and persistent racism, children shot by guns, plus commentary on the state of the music biz and the media, and also a couple of humorous songs, and as she did on her last album, a cover of one of her father’s songs. The band includes multi instrumentalist Will Kimbrough, who served as producer and co-composer, plus Lex Price on bass and Pete Abbot on drums, with additional guests.
Like her last two albums, Done Come Too Far was recorded in Nashville, so there’s a decidedly eclectic approach to the arrangements, including one that is pretty much country. Throughout the album, Ms. Copeland belts out the songs with her powerful voice that has won her various blues awards.
The album opens with one of its more lyrically incisive songs. Too Far to Be Gone which dwells on the civil rights struggle and the seeming rise of racism in the wake of Trump. There’s a guest appearance by Sonny Landreth on slide guitar. <<>>
The album includes a now prescient song that was written before the Uvalde, Texas, school gun massacre. Pink Turns to Red paints a picture of a little girl’s pink backpack in school running red with blood from gunfire. <<>>
Another song that makes a powerful statement is The Talk about what a parent has to tell an African American boy reaching manhood, about what to expect in a world with innocent black men being shot by police and others. <<>>
The album goes back in history to life under slavery on the song Gullah Geechee which features the distinctive sound of an African gourd banjo, and the spiritual like backing vocals. <<>>
But the album also turns a lot lighter lyrically. Fried Catfish and Bibles is a fun Zydeco flavored party song. <<>>
The album turns back to one of its main themes on the title track Done Come Too Far also about the Civil Rights struggle and the determination not to lose what was gained. Cedric Burnside makes a guest appearance on guitar and vocal. <<>>
Another powerful song is The Dolls Are Sleeping about a child rape victim, and what she endured during and after the attack. <<>>
But as a total contrast to that, is what is described as a “semi-autobiographical” song I Fell in Love with a Honky. It shows that Ms. Copeland can still have a lot of fun, in the context of an album that touches on a number of heavy topics. <<>>
Shemekia Copeland’s new album Done Come Too Far is one of the best yet from one of today’s most important voices in the blues, not only as a dynamic performer, but one who has much to say, through lyrics penned by her manager and colleague John Hahn, and the compositions by the album’s producer Will Kimbrough. The recording also has two covers, one from folk artist Susan Werner, and one from Ms. Copeland’s father Johnny Copeland. The musical context and sound is somewhat harder-edged than her last album Uncivil War which was also recorded in Nashville. Her band is tight and they keep the spotlight on Ms. Copeland as she drives home the lyrical message.
Unfortunately, we’ll give the album no better than a grade “C minus” for sound quality. The recording is horribly over-compressed, it has no dynamics, and Ms. Copeland’s vocals often sound overdriven and distorted. I find it downright unpleasant to listen to, undermining the album’s excellent content.
Done Come Too Far marks the third part of a kind of trilogy from Shemkia Copeland, starting with her 2018 album America’s Child and continuing through 2020’s Uncivil War in which the blues based artist tackles bigger issues than most blues
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