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BLUES

Shemekia Copeland, 'Never Going Back'

March 2, 2009
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ESSENTIAL "Sounds Like the Devil"

I was taken with blues singer Shemekia Copeland from the first syllable she uttered on her debut album, "Turn the Heat Up," released 11 years ago, when she was just a teenager. Even back then, she possessed a voice that was mature far beyond her years, so it's easy to forget that she's only 29 now. Her new disc, "Never Going Back," is a bit of a departure from the loud rowdiness of her previous four. She sounds even more grown up in the company of such talented musicians as organist John Medeski, guitarist Marc Ribot, bassist Chris Wood, and guitarist Oliver Wood, who produced the album. This is a more basic, stripped-down affair, yet Copeland's vocals are no less powerful. Boy, has she got a set of lungs. She uses them for political means on "Sounds Like the Devil," belting out lines like: "People are hurting/ Politicians certain/ They got God on their side/ And they say that He's talking to them personally." Maybe a little dated with Obama in the White House, but effective nonetheless. Where she mixes things up musically is on tunes like "Broken World," a minimalist piece of loping blues, and a refined, drum-less cover of Joni Mitchell's "Black Crow." I'd say Copeland just gets better with age, but she's not even 30. Hard to believe. (Out now) - STEVE GREENLEE

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