Thursday, January 31, 2013

Shemekia Copeland -- "33 1/3"

I won't be the first or the last to say it, but Shemekia Copeland has made a great cd. 2009's "Never Going Back" was really good, and it might have been difficult for a lesser talent to follow it, but Shemekia has made an even better cd in 33 1/3. This is a tough set with powerhouse vocals and music, featuring some great songs and great songwriters.

There are some carry overs from "Never Going Back." Again, the cd is produced by Oliver Wood, and the executive producer is Copeland's manager John Hahn. And Wood/Hahn co-wrote 4 songs here. Other songs are from Sam Cooke, ("Ain't That Good News") Bob Dylan, ("I'll Be Your Baby Tonight") Randy Weeks, ("Can't Let Go") Earl Bridgeman-Philip Wooten, ("I Sing The Blues") Chris Long, ("Hangin' Up") and Johnny Copeland ("One More Time"). The core band is Shemekia on vocals, Oliver Wood and Arthur Nielson on guitar, Ted Peccio on bass, Garry Hanson on drums. Guests include Buddy Guy, guitar on "Ain't Gonna Be Your Tattoo;" JJ Grey, vocals on "Mississippi Mud;" Roosevelt Collier, pedal steel on "Lemon Pie" "Mississippi Mud" and "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight;" Jon Liebman, harmonica on "I Sing The Blues" and "One More Time;" Neil Wauchope, organ on "Mississippi Mud" and "Hangin Up;" Charlie Starr, pedal steel on "A Woman" and background vocals with Sarah Dugans on "Somebody Else's Jesus."

Just for me, one of keys here is "Mississippi Mud." The songs kicks off with the rhythm guitar of Oliver Wood locked in tight with Ted Peccio and Gerry Hanson. Then Shemekia just pours her great voice into the mix, and on the second verse she is joined by JJ Grey's vocals, and the organ and pedal steel keep things percolating along. Shemekia has grown so much--now she knows she doesn't have to shout or push the vocals--all she has to do is sing this good song, and she sings it with tenderness and care. And she does the same thing with every song here. The cd is built on good songs, the production has great balance and warmth, and Shemekia sings well. Her father's song "One More Time," has never been sung better. Sam Cooke and Bob Dylan both get a sympathetic reading by a woman who can sing their songs with intelligence and taste.

Bravo, Ms Copeland.

You can buy this cd at I-Tunes, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Read more about Shemekia and this cd and check out her tour schedule at                     

Monday, January 21, 2013

Michael Burks -- "Show Of Strength"

The coldest day of this new year, Martin Luther King Jr day, January 21--even though MLK Jr's birthday was last Tuesday January 15. The President was inaugurated yesterday, even though he will reproduce that effort today and give a speech. I am drawing abundant warmth and sustenance from a great LP my sister Teri gave me for Christmas--Marshall Tucker Band's "Greatest Hits." (1978 Capricorn Records) Actually she gave me a box of records that once belonged to Aunt Loretta. After Aunt Loretta died about a year ago at a great old age, Teri thought I would want her records. I did, and I was shocked to find the Marshall Tucker Band in the box next to The Longines Symphonette Society. Wow what a great band Marshall Tucker Band was! Thanks Teri. And thanks Aunt Loretta.

But I digress only briefly--this is supposed to be a review of Michael Burks' "Show Of Strength." This cd was his 4th for Alligator Records, following "Iron Man (2008)," "I Smell Smoke (2003)," and "Make It Rain (2001)." The final mixes were complete and at his home waiting for final approval when he died of a heart attack at the airport in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 6, 2012. While his death was a great loss to the blues world, this is a terrific record. Burks' abilities as a songwriter, singer and guitar player were all in fine condition when recording these songs. The band was Burks on Guitars and Vocals, Wayne Sharp on Organ, Piano and Background Vocals, Terrence Grayson on Bass and Background Vocals, Chuck 'Popcorn' Louden on Drums and Background Vocals. Also guesting on this set were Roosevelt Purifoy on Keyboards on "Feel Like Going Home," additional keyboards on "24 Hour Blues" and "Take A Chance On Me, Baby" and Scott Dirks on Harmonica on "Little Juke Joint." The singing and playing is full and deep--throughout, this is the best work of Burks' career.  Special cudos for "Storm Warning," a crackling good song with great guitar and singing by Burks and wonderful backing by the band. "Little Juke Joint" is Michael telling his own story--raised in his father's club, The Bradley Ferry Country Club in Camden Arkansas. My favorite song is "Feel Like Going Home," which features heartfelt lyrics and a piano/organ backing that would sound right at home in church, and a tasteful, emotional guitar solo.

A lot of blues artists whose work I love have passed away--many of them far too soon. I took a long time to grieve Michael Burks' passing before I wrote this review. I will miss him, and the music he never got a chance to make, the stages where his fans never got to hear him play. But it is a comfort that we have this last cd, and his music does live on. RIP my friend.    

I'm going to let Bruce Iglauer have the final word:
"It was my decision to leave this album as we intended it, not as a memorial to a friend and bluesman gone, but as a living, breathing statement, sent straight from Michael's heart and soul. Although Michael is not here, the music he recorded is indeed his show of his immense strength and spirit. It will live on, confirming forever his status as one of the greatest bluesmen of his generation."

You can buy this cd at