Shemekia Copeland, who opens for Susan Tedeschi at the Cape Cod Melody Tent tonight, delivers a compelling brand of rockin’ blues and soul, delivered with a powerhouse voice that was still capable of the sweetest nuance.
Shemekia Copeland’s new record label is better known for its roster of jazz greats, but the the singer with four acclaimed albums on her resume is still singing her subtly rendered brand of rhythm and blues on her latest effort “Never Going Back,” under the label Telarc International of Cleveland.
Copeland, 30, opens for Norwell’s Susan Tedeschi at the Cape Cod Melody Tent tonight, the Newport Yachting Center Saturday and The South Shore Music Circus on Sunday.
If Copeland’s first four albums for Alligator Records had one thing in common it was her compelling brand of rockin’ blues and soul, delivered with a powerhouse voice that was still capable of the sweetest nuance. Copeland’s music also benefited greatly from superb contemporary songwriting choices, many of them written by her manager/collaborator John Hahn. The protagonists in Copeland’s blues songs are never just helpless victims, but hardy survivors who’ve lived and learned, and are proud of their resilience.
Some of the most provocative tunes are “Sounds Like the Devil,” with its muted jabs at politicians and TV preachers and their hypocrisy, and “Broken World,” whose gospel-like tone includes the weary line “I wish I could fix a small part of this broken world.”
“That’s absolutely a new direction, a new kind of song for me,” said Copeland. “I’ve never really discussed politics or religion before – in fact I try to avoid it. But it just became hard to ignore with all the things going on in the world today. And the target in the first song is hypocrisy, which I think everyone dislikes.”
Copeland also chooses some songs from songwriters that might surprise even longtime fans. There’s a stunning take on Buddy and Julie Miller’s “Dirty Water,” that turns the country tune into steamy, down-home grit. Joni Mitchell’s “Black Crow” comes as close to jazz as anything on the album, albeit with strong soul overtones. And Americana songsmith Paul Thorn’s ode to female empowerment, “Rise Up” is practically an anthem in the simple, affecting rendition.
“I love that song from the Millers,” said Copeland, “and it sums up so much of what I care about. I had never really thought of doing a Joni Mitchell song before, but I fell in love with that one, and felt it was right for me. The Paul Thorn song is another song about empowerment, and about just reminding people to feel good about themselves.”
But it is another song, “Born a Penny” that Copeland most identifies with. For the daughter of the late blues guitar great Johnny “Clyde” Copeland, the humility and tenacity suffusing that song is everything she wants to convey to her audiences.
“That song ‘Born a Penny” fits me so well,” Copeland pointed out. “Growing up in America is very hard on young women, because you’re always being shown these images of perfection, all those airburshed girls on magazine covers. I suppose it’s the same for men, with all those muscle-bound men on covers too. Too many people are just not happy with themselves, because how many of us can measure up to that physical perfection? I liked that song, because I’m 30 now, and I feel like I’m over that, but I know how much it hurt. I don’t give a damn about that stuff now, and I know it’s more important to be happy with who you are, not trying to be someone you can’t ever be. Accepting ourselves is one of the hardest lessons of growing up, and this song tells you that.”
Copeland and Tedeschi know each other well, having toured together before. The possibility of some kind of duet is intriguing to say the least.
“We’ve done some gigs together before, I’ve opened some shows for her over the years,” said Copeland. “Will we do a duet, or sit in with each other? Maybe, we haven’t really had time to talk about it, but I think it’d be fun.”
Copeland had been hosting a weekly blues show on Sirius satellite radio up until last fall, when Sirius merged with XM and a lot of programming was trimmed. She misses the interaction with listeners, and the chance to explore other artists’ music.
But the past few weeks she had much more on her mind, testing even her well earned resilience. The previous week her mother had undergone triple bypass cardiac surgery, another relative was seriously ill, and Koko Taylor, ‘the Queen of the Blues’ had died at age 80 after complications from a mid-May surgery. Copeland had become very close to Taylor, especially after moving from her native New York City to Chicago a couple years ago.
“Koko was a great friend to me,” Copeland said. “She had always been so nice and supportive, and I know I’m going to miss her a lot. She’s definitely someone who was able to do her thing musically over a period of many years, and always stay true to herself. She was a great example to young women, and I know she paved the way for a lot of people like me.”
QUINCY ROCKING TONIGHT: Downtown Quincy has a couple of hot rock shows. The Granite Rail has another Geezer’s Garage Night, with six rock bands topped off by the hosts Geezers Deluxe ... Paddy Barry’s has Paul Kenny and Cherry Orchard with their Beatlesque pop.
SIR PAUL GOES DEEP: Speaking of Beatles, if you missed it, Paul McCartney will be performing at Fenway Park on Aug. 5 and 6.
COUNTRY GOES ROX: On the subject of ballpark concerts, Campanelli Stadium, home of the Brockton Rox, will be playing host to a concert of up-and-coming country heartthrobs, when Jason Aldean headlines an Aug. 12 show. Opening acts include Jimmy Wayne and Dean Brody, and tickets go on sale tomorrow.
CRUISING: There are some neat music cruises out of Boston Harbor. The Rock On series departs the Rowe’s Wharf terminal by the Boston Harbor Hotel, while the Rock and Blues Cruises series leaves from Long Wharf, by the New England Aquarium. And here’s a hot tip for suburbanites: the parking garage under International Place charges $9 for night or weekend parking, and it’s only a short walk away from both departure points.
Jay N. Miller covers popular music on the South Shore and in the Boston area. If you have information or ideas for Jay send it to him by e-mail to email@example.com. Attn: Music Scene in the subject line.