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Shemekia Copeland: The Outskirts Of Love

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When she first came along, someone matter-of-factly called Shemekia Copeland “the Future of Blues.”   She’s lived up to that ever since.  When she sings at a gig, her voice is like thunder.  Complete with lightning.  

Turn The Heat Up, her first album for Alligator, was aptly-titled.  And now she’s returned to Alligator with her 7th album, Outskirts of Love.

What’s been more and more characteristic of the songs she sings is that she sings about the real world that’s happening all around us, and that’s especially so about the new album.  

Gravitas is not a word that usually shows up when talking about the blues, and yet no other music is as seriously profound about life.  The broken hearts of love gone wrong.  The anger that comes when feeling lost in a bottle or a gutter.  

The songs that she sings on Outskirts of Love, especially songs written for Shemekia by producer John Hahn and guitarist Oliver Wood, get even deeper into troubles being faced more and more today.  

Being abused and waking up on “Crossbone Beach.”  Helplessly living in a “Cardboard Box.”  “I’m a lifer,” says Shemekia, “singing about things that bother me, using my music to help people."

Not that the songs are all so deeply dark.  Shemekia also gets in some laughs about the music biz, like the song “Driving Out of Nashville” — where country music "ain’t nothing but blues with a twang!”  

She revisits some favorite songs.  Albert King's “Wrapped Up in Love Again.”   John Fogerty’s “Long As I Can See The Light.”  Jesse Winchester’s “Isn’t That So.”   And always there’s a song of her father, Johnny Copeland’s “Devil’s Hand.” 

She’s also joined by some stellar friends.  Robert Randolph brings almost psychedelic steel to “Crossbone Beach.”   Alvin Youngblood Hart gets as lost in the “Cardboard Box.”   ZZ Top’s phenomenally hirsute Billy Gibbons plays some whirling guitar on his group’s “Jesus Just Left Chicago.”  

And Shemekia ends with the gospel of hope, “Lord, Help The Poor and Needy.”  

“My dad always said,” says Shemekia, “‘We’re all connected.’"

  - Michael Bourne, host of WBGo's Blues Hour and Singers Unlimited

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