Watching Shemekia Copeland perform last night renewed my faith that the blues will survive a little while longer. The genre seemed like it was on life support for awhile as many of the old time Delta and Chicago blues players were dying off without a younger generation stepping up to take their place. Just last month, Koko Taylor passed away at age 80. And while the reality is there will never be another singer like her, Copeland seems ready to carry the torch for female blues singers despite only being 30-years-old.
Her set last night at Jazz Alley was an impressive display of her amazing vocal range and skills as a band leader. She's got plenty of old school twang, something she inherited from her father, blues legend Johnny Copeland, but she delivers it with a sort of new jack swing since she was born and raised in Harlem.
It was interesting to hear a New York style of blues last night. The whole band is from N.Y. (Brooklyn, Harlem, and Woodstock) and you can hear that on stage, and in Copeland's accent. In the essence of the blues, she talks to the audience a lot in between songs -- mostly because that's just what she does -- but it also gives her band a chance to figure out what song to play next. As Copeland admitted with a laugh, she never makes set-lists before they perform and every song that comes out depends on the energy of the night.
When they jumped into "Radio," she proceeded by talking about her once popular internet radio show on Sirius that went away last year due to the economy. Before the band played, "When a Woman's Had Enough," she joked with the audience about her crying girlfriends who were always calling her up and complaining about their men. That setup is a necessary art within the blues and Copeland does it well. It's like a trick to get the audience to laugh before she sings about topics that can make us cry.
The best part of the night was when Copeland sang a tribute to her father called "Ghetto Child." It was haunting and soulful enough to put your stomach in knots. She sang it with so much power and gusto, that halfway through the song, she stepped away from the microphone and let her voice boom out into the room unaccompanied. Something like what's below.
Copeland and her band play Jazz Alley again tonight. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. (although yesterday's started at 7:40 p.m.) and if you're a lover of the blues, it's something you don't want to miss. She'll also be doing a duo performance around noon today on KPLU 88.5 FM alongside her guitarist. Tune in if you want to get a preview of what she'll sound like this evening.