Thursday, August 18, 2022

Shemekia Copeland - Done Come Too Far

I won’t lie.  There are times when I find listening to Shemekia Copeland hard work.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m firmly in her camp when it comes to the social issues highlighted in many of her songs – with the input of her manager and lyricist John Hahn.  But sometimes it can all seem a bit earnest, her delivery a bit declamatory.  And she also an occasional fondness for vocal vibrato that I don’t share.  But for all that, Shemekia Copeland is still an artist who demands attention.
Shemekia Copeland brings some sunshine with her smile
Pic by Victoria Smith
There are several songs here that continue her focus on civil rights and the black American experience.  The opening ‘Too Far To Be Gone’ rides in on a heavy, insistent riff, while Copeland references inspirations such as Rosetta Parks in a forceful, positive vocal that speaks of continuing unity and resolve.  There’s a strong bridge, and Sonny Landreth contributes some trademark slide guitar.  Later, the title track ‘Done Come Too Far’ shares a similar tag line, but is a more sombre affair.  Here the focus is less on inspirations of the past than the need for grim determination in the face of continuing challenges, over solemnly steely, twanging guitar and with added resonance from the brooding voice of Cedric Burnside.
Meanwhile ‘The Talk’ is a powerful illustration of those challenges, a dramatic monologue in which a mother tutors her son in how to cope with life-threatening provocation, summed up in the lines “As sure as you’re black, there’s a target on your back”.  Copeland’s vocal is emotive, although for me she doesn’t need to lean on a shaking, warbling vibrato to convey the emotion.  As compensation though, there’s some excellent, edgy guitar work from Will Kimbrough – not one of the North Mississippi Kimbrough clan – who also co-writes most of the material with Hahn.  ‘Gullah Geechee’ is a more stripped back tune, all handclaps, moaned backing vocals, and African gourd banjo as it adds a historical perspective by harking back to earlier experiences of slavery.
Other serious subjects get an airing in the form of ‘Why Why Why’, a soulful but rootsy ballad expressing the confusion of a victim of infidelity, with excellent weeping slide from Kimbrough.  ‘The Dolls Are Sleeping’ is a slice of dark storytelling about child abuse, put over by little more than Copeland’s voice and acoustic guitar from Oliver Wood.  But the best song in this vein is perhaps ‘Pink Turns To Red’, a brisk and coherent track that tackles the subject of mass shootings with urgency, strong imagery, and more quality slide colourings from Kimbrough.
This is all weighty stuff, and Copeland and her team evidently recognise the need for a spoonful of sugar to help it go down.  So ‘Fried Catfish And Bibles’ is three minutes of zydeco-dressed fun, and ‘Fell In Love With A Honky’ is a comical salute to interracial relationships that’s a rattling country tune right down to its fiddle and pedal steel guitar.  ‘Dumb It Down’, an eye-rolling pop at social media influencers, is lightly funky and relaxed but its bright chorus sounds derivative, and there ain’t much else to grab the attention beyond some low-key burbling sax.
The album closes strongly though, with ‘Nobody But You’, a song by her bluesman father Johnny.  It’s a stop-time riffing, bump’n’grinding blues delivered with woozily behind-the-beat drums from Pete Abbott, lolloping bass from Lex Price, and stinging guitar from Kimbrough.  Oh yeah, and Copeland confidently explores all the vocal angles the song has to offer.
Done Come Too Far is a tough listen at times, from a lyrical perspective.  But Copeland and Hahn deserve credit for tackling big issues.  And the album also works musically, thanks to Will Kimbrough’s songwriting and production.  All in all, Done Come Too Far is another impressive outing from one of the most significant contemporary blues artists out there.
Done Come Too Far
 is released by Alligator Records on 19 August.

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