Blues Bytes

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November 2020

Shemekia Copeland
Uncivil War
Alligator Records

Shemekia Copeland

Shemekia Copeland's Uncivil War album (Alligator) should get some nods for album of the year, and not just for the music here. In this year of unrest and social injustice in our country, Copeland is using this set of music to add her voice in the good fight and her hopes that we can bring everyone back together as one.

What's unique about this album is that there is a wide range of instrumentation, including some accompaniment not normally heard on blues recordings, as well as a variety of styles that cover a diverse musical road map.

Copeland hits the listener right in the heart and conscience with the opening cut, "Clotilda's On Fire," a slow blues telling the story of one of the last slave ships to arrive on American soil, calling it 'Satin's daughter.' Country artist Jason Isbel plays a solid blues guitar on this one. "Walk Until I Ride" is another slow blues in which Copeland sings about the difficulties in getting a cab to take her to her neighborhood. Jerry Douglas adds very nice dobro accompaniment before the tempo increases with the song ending with a rollicking gospel chorus taking it home.

The title cut, "Uncivil War," should earn plenty of nods for Song of the Year, a very topical number in which Copeland sings about how we've been torn apart ... "... Same old wounds we opened before, nobody wins an uncivil war ..." Sam Bush's mandolin work is one of the highlights on this number. Fellow Alligator artist Christone "Kingfish" Ingram appears on guitar on still another important message, "Money Makes You Ugly," a plea to the wealthy to help us save the planet. "... We're drinking dirty water, while you're drinking champagne ...," and then adding "... Money makes you ugly, that why I'm glad to be poor ..."

Copeland goes in a couple of different directions with the next two songs, first taking it down to New Orleans for a funky and swampy tribute, "Dirty Saint," to Dr. John, before changing the context of the Rolling Stones number, "Under My Thumb," to celebrate women who have been able to overcome the tough times handed to them.

It's time to tackle gun violence and gun control on the mid-tempo heavier blues of "Apple Pie And A .45," with Douglas opening the number with another quite fine dobro solo before Copeland sings, "... Boom boom, pop pop, when are we going to make it stop? ..." That leads into the slow, reggae-ish "Give God The Blues," with Copeland singing about who God doesn't hate and that He loves every ethnic, racial and political group, but our hatred of each other gives God the blues.

Duane Eddy and Webb Wilder share guitar duties on "She Don't Wear Pink," about a tomboy-type of woman, followed by "No Heart At All," featuring Douglas on the lap steel. Producer Will Kimbrough and the legendary Steve Cropper share the guitar work on Junior Parker's slow, jazzy blues, "In The Dark." Closing this absolutely essential album is "Love Song," a very soulful mid-tempo shuffle, written by Copeland's late father, Johnny.

Uncivil War is a strong addition to the Shemekia Copeland discography, not just for the civics lessons she and her co-writers give us but also for the diversity of material and instrumentation. It's well worth your attention.

--- Bill Mitchell



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