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August 2022

Shemekia Copeland
Done Come Too Far
Alligator Records

Shemekia Copeland

Shemekia Copeland can write and sing a topical blues song, covering both current and past events, better than most contemporary artists. And, hey, that's what the blues should often be all about. She really nailed it on her previous album, Uncivil War, and now she's back on Done Come Too Far with even more topics to get our minds thinking about where we were and where we're at now as a society. But she also shows the ability to make the music fun, often bringing a smile to the face while listening to her original compositions. We could argue all day about who is the most important artist on the blues scene today, but I could easily make a case that it's Shemekia.

As she did on Uncivil War, Ms. Copeland headed to Nashville to record this latest album, incorporating some of that area's sounds and instrumentation into the mix to create a more unique and diverse blues sound not restricted by boundaries. Will Kimbrough returns as producer after manning the helm on her two previous releases.

We get right to the power of the blues on the opening cut, "Too Far To Be Gone," wiht Copeland singing about advancements that have been made in the civil rights movement, notably mentioning Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, the freedom marchers, and more, with Sonny Landreth driving the beat with searing slide guitar and Copeland forcefully shouting out lines like, "... If you think we're stopping, you've got it wrong ..." Yes, advancements have been made, but there is still a long way to go.

"Pink Turns To Red" is the song that you will listen to over and over, perhaps at times bringing a tear to your eye, with Copeland telling about the ravages of gun violence. Her voice powers over the heavy instrumentation, filling our minds and memories with lines like, "... open season from a window above ...," "... last one in the classroom door ...," and "... she saw the kid with the gun ..." Like me, you will undoubtedly wonder whether she wrote this song after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas earlier this year, but it was actually composed and recorded prior to that tragedy. If that doesn't make you lament the effect of our lax gun control laws, then listen to it again .. and again ... and again.

"The Talk" is a slow blues that could have been (and most likely was) a real-life conversation that Copeland had with her son about how to carry himself as a young black man. This line says it all --- "...As sure as you're black, there's a target on your back ..." Soul pioneer Charles Hodges contributes B-3 accompaniment here. Going back into history is the eerie, snaky blues, "Gullah Geechee," with Cedric Watson's African gourd banjo starting this song before Copeland sings about the early days of slavery and then bringing it to the present with the line, "... still trying to be free ...," showing that in many ways slavery hasn't really ended. Following that is a slow soulful blues, "Why Why Why," with Copeland looking for answers to questions that perhaps can't be resolved.

Done Come Too Far turns to a lighter side after those first five songs, with "Fried Catfish And Bibles" taking us into Louisiana for a rollicking Cajun number, featuring Andre Michot on accordion and Watson on fiddle. But just to keep us focused on the real reasons for this album, Cedric Burnside joins in on guitar and vocals on "Done Come Too Far," a slow, Hill Country blues with the requisite heavy drum beat as the co-vocalists urge everyone to keep the civil rights movement going. "... If you think we're stopping, you've got it wrong ..."

"Barefoot In Heaven" seems to be Copeland's view of what heaven will be like when she gets there, especially that she anticipates seeing and hearing Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Landreth returns with heavy slide guitar while a background choir gives the song an appropriate church vibe.

What follows is a totally unexpected song, "Fell In Love With A Honky," with the press notes proclaiming it as semi-autobiographical for Copeland. It's a real hoot, a country sound as she sings about meeting a musician atTootsie's Orchid Lounge in Nashville and falling for him despite their very different backgrounds. He's playing country blues at first, but Copeland claims to convert him from playing Hank Williams to Otis Redding, singing "... everyday he gets a little more funky! ..." Fats Kaplin contributes pedal steel to give this song its country sound.

"The Dolls Are Sleeping" is a pleasant tune with limited instrumentation, leading in to a funky Memphis sound, "Dumb It Down," with the appropriate guitar effects by Kimbrough and keyboard playing from Hodges. It's another humorous number, with Copeland explaining the way to get ahead in our more vapid social media celebrity environment.

To close the album Copeland covers one of her father Johnny's standards, "Nobody But You," but giving it a slower tempo than the original. Kimbrough takes on the Johnny Copeland role with a killer blues guitar solo. I truly believe that Johnny would be proud of his daughter and everything she's accomplished in the blues world, but especially for her version of this song.

Done Come Too Far may finish the current blues season as the best album of the year. Shemekia Copeland has the bloodlines, the voice and the songwriting skills to continue to thrive. I can't wait to hear what's next from her.

--- Bill Mitchell



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