Release date: August 19, 2022
By Greg Easterling
Shemekia Copeland at Chicago Blues Fest 2022/ Photo: by Jennifer Noble
Shemekia Copeland is back with a strong new release, Done Come Too Far, her eighth
album for Chicago’s Alligator Records. Done Come Too Far continues Copeland’s
evolution as an artist both thematically and stylistically, following in the wake of her
three previous albums, Uncivil War, America’s Child, and Outskirts of Love since
her return to the Alligator fold in 2015. And although Shemekia continues to be a
recipient of numerous blues music related awards and nominations, she embraces a
variety of styles here ranging from her blues base to Americana and roots rock with serious nods to gospel and honky tonk country, a scenario demonstrated graphically by the songs chosen for Shemekia to record for Done Come Too Far.
Recording in the musical melting pot of Nashville, Tennessee with award winning
producer and guitarist Will Kimbrough is certainly a pillar that supports Copeland’s
quest for a more varied musical approach. Kimbrough has also become part of
Shemekia’s stellar song writing team, co-writing eight of the album’s twelve tracks with
manager and executive producer John Hahn, with an occasional assists from longtime collaborator Oliver Wood again this time. Kimbrough and Hahn are key in translating Shemekia’s concerns about race relations and diversity into songs she sings with obvious passion. Instead of just relying on tried and true blues themes, Shemekia songs often target child abuse and gun violence.
But there’s still space for lighter fare as she relates. “This album was made by all sides of me -- happy, sad, silly, irate -- they’re all part of who I am and who we are.”
Nevertheless Done Come Too Far begins with a serious statement of theme, “Too Far
To Be Gone”. Shemekia sings, “If you think we’re stopping, you got it all wrong” with
words that evoke images of Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Birmingham,
Alabama. She professes: “You can kill a man but not a dream.” The music is equally as urgent,
underlined by a great solo from Sonny Landreth, who leads off this album just as he often kicked off Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festivals.
Next, “Pink Turns To Red” is ripped from today’s headlines inspired by the continuing
plague of mass shootings at schools and in the streets from Uvalde, Texas to
Highland Park, Illinois. “Tears will flow, prayers will be said,” sings Shemekia, “Pink
turns to red, there’s nowhere to run.” It’s also a guitar driven effort with a trio of players
Kevin Gordon, Kenny Brown and producer Kimbrough all bringing the heat.
“The Talk” follows at a slower, more deliberate tempo. It’s Shemekia , a real life mother
addressing a son, a young black man, who faces special challenges in today’s world.
“You might do nothing wrong, the next moment you’ll be gone. When you get stopped,
remember who you are.” The musical highlight here is the Hammond B-3 playing of
Charles Hodges from the famed Hi Rhythm Section that distinguished many an Al
Green and Memphis soul recordings.
The opening quartet of songs, all linked by serious concerns, continues with
“Gullah Geechee”, a look back at the slavery experience and the personal heartaches
caused by the forced separation of couples and families by the slave trade. The music
too is a reflection of another time utilizing a more rural approach. Cedric Watson guests
on African gourd banjo with handclaps and the spiritual sounding backing vocals of
Lisa Oliver Gray, Megan Murray and producer Kimbrough.
Shemekia covers three songs on Done Come Too Far and the next track is the first one.
It’s “Why Why Why”, written by singer-songwriter Susan Werner, an agonized sounding
reflection of a heart broken by infidelity. “I don’t want a big scene, I don’t want you to lie,
sings Shemekia, “I just want to know, why, why, why.” Kimbrough provides a suitably
supportive and soulful guitar solo here.
It’s about time for some real fun and the next song provides it. “Fried Catfish and Bibles”
has a Cajun feel celebrating a funky joint where you can get both of the items
mentioned in the song’s title. Cedric Watson returns, trading his banjo for a fiddle this
time with help from Washboard Chaz and Andre Michol on accordion.
Next, the title track “Done Come Too Far” appears at last, a reprise thematically of the
album’s opening track. Shemekia sings, “If you think we’re stoppin’, you’re wrong!”
And for the only time on this album, Copeland shares vocals with bluesman
Cedric Burnside, who also plays guitar here alongside Kimbrough and Kenny Brown.
“Barefoot In Heaven” is another cover and surprisingly a gospel oriented song written
by longtime Texas troubadour Ray Wylie Hubbard. The words penned by Hubbard
sound natural coming from Shemekia. “Gonna walk around heaven barefoot singin’
God’s grace. Gonna walk around heaven where there are no end of days.” The lyrics
also mention a desire to track down legendary guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe for a
personal concert perhaps.
Stereotypes are examined in a light hearted way by Shemekia in the following song.
“Fell in love with a honky in a honky tonk bar, dressed up like a rodeo star playing
country blues on a beat up guitar.” Shemekia pokes fun at the situation with an
arrangement requiring pedal steel guitar by Fats Kaplan and additional guitar by
guest Aaron Lee Tasjan.
The mood changes again with the next song, “The Dolls are Sleeping” an examination
of child sex abuse in the first person. “Close my eyes, tried to pray”, sings Shemekia,
“How can you live when you can’t trust?” The silent dolls on the bed are eventually
dispatched to a second hand store in an attempt to erase the memories of those sad
moments. It’s just Shemekia with two guitars on this song, the acoustic one played by
the song’s co-writer, Oliver Wood.
Next, Charles Hodges returns on Hammond B-3 for “Dumb It Down” with the first sound
of saxophone provided by Joe Cabral. It’s a tongue-in-cheek but very real look at fame
acquired much too easily. “If you want to know the secret to success, “ confides
Shemekia, “Always use two syllables or less. If you want to move up, you got to dumb
it down. “ It’s certainly not the approach that Copeland has taken with her long running
career and climb to the top of the blues world.
Shemekia closes the album this time with her traditional choice of one of her father’s
songs. From the pen of Johnny Clyde Copeland, it’s “Nobody But You.” Using a familiar
“Mannish Boy” like riff, it’s a real love song at last to end the proceedings. “When I was
down, who lifted me up, nobody but you.” Kimbrough provides a great solo to honor the
Done Come Too Far was recorded and mixed at 3 Sirens in Nashville. The band
included Lex Price on bass, Pete Abbott on drums, Pat Sansone on keyboards and
Will Kimbrough on guitar. Additional recording was done in Memphis and New Orleans.
It’s another success for Shemekia Copeland, a performer who ranks among the best
singers in contemporary music, not only in the blues music universe. Yet, the blues is
the genre that has nurtured and rewarded her. As her recordings push the boundaries,
it’s necessary to give Copeland the necessary space to explore and evolve. Credit
Alligator Records for encouraging this evolution, helping to make it possible
with their support.
For info or to buy the music: https://shemekiacopeland.com/
About the Author: Greg Easterling is a veteran Chicago radio air personality and media member of the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame. He is the host of American Backroads on WDCB, 90.9 FM in the Chicago area, Thursday nights at 9 p.m. Greg spins funk and fusion jazz rock, on the Friday into Saturday overnight shift, on WDCB from 12 mid-5 a.m.