Never Going Back

Johnny Clyde Copeland’s little girl isn’t a girl anymore. Proclaimed as the future queen of blues while still a teenager, she’s matured into a women and a polished professional who is poised to move her career in new directions while still acknowledging her blues ancestry. Copeland began her career groomed in the tradition of blues singers like Koko Taylor, Bessie Smith and Etta James but Never Going Back presents a more nuanced singer with a broader musical vision.

Copeland’s “future of the blues” approach to this new album is apparent in her band line-up and choice of material. Jumping to the forefront is the appearance of Tom Wait’s guitarist Marc Ribot, keyboardist John Medeski, and bassist Chris Wood. Another give-away is her choice of material including Joni Mitchell’s moody “Black Crow.” Accompanied by Medeski on Hammond organ, Ribot on acoustic guitar and Chris Woods on bass, Copeland, who is renowned for he blast furnace bellows, keeps it in check, instead opting for the shadings and introspection usually associated with folk singers. Even when singing the juke-joint, gospel infected jump of “Big Brand New Religion” Copeland’s vocals are more restrained than one might expect but allows for a greater appreciation of her phrasing.

The other huge difference on Never Going Backis Copeland’s choice of producer. In search of her new sound she reached out to Oliver Wood, a member of the acoustic duo The Wood Brothers (the other Wood brother is the aforementioned bassist Chris who also is part of the jazz trio Medeski, Martin, and Wood.) Wood has made a career of creating organic, roots music and he brings that talent to this recording. On the closing track “Circumstances” (written by her father) Shemekia is accompanied by only a slide and acoustic guitar and she has never sounded better or more soulful. This isn’t a record about flash but it is about depth.

Shemekia ventures into the political and personal on several tracks. “Sounds Like the Devil,” co-written by Copeland and Executive Producer John Hahn, takes aim at politicians who trade on their constituent’s religious beliefs for political clout. Percy Mayfields’s “River’s Invitation” speaks to her personal faith in this world and beyond. Copeland refers to “Born A Penny” as her most autobiographical song to date, a defiant yet happy number with lots of clapping rhythm. The most surprising track might be the evocative “Never Going Back To Memphis” a song that relies heavily on Ribot’s sleek guitar licks.

Never Going Back features a cover shot of Shemekia sporting a sexy, sophisticated, very grown-up look. Seems someone’s been spending time at Sholanda’s, a beauty salon made famous on one of Copeland’s earlier albums. Girl, you look and sound GOOD!

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix Host)