Search Results for ‘Shemekia Copeland’

Shemekia Copeland – America’s Child



Title: America’s Child

Artist: Shemekia Copeland

Label: Alligator

Formats: CD, Digital

Release Date: August 3, 2018


Since her Outskirts of Love release, “Queen of the Blues” Shemekia Copeland has been striving for a deeper representation of Americana blues. With her newest offering, she has done just that. Combining elements of rock, soul and country, America’s Child is Copeland’s most diverse and compelling work yet. Americana Instrumentalist of the Year winner Will Kimbrough both produces and plays guitar on the album with additional contributors Emmylou Harris, Steve Cropper, J.D. Wilkes, and Al Perkins adding their own unique stylings that seamlessly blend with Copeland.

The opening track, “Ain’t Got Time for Hate,” has an immediate drive and speaks right to the heart of those fed up with the current atmosphere: “One more moment is a moment too late / We ain’t got time for hate.” “Americans,” the next offering, is chock full of slide guitar and open-mindedness about the wonderful diversity within United States: “We’re walkin’, talkin’ contradictions / No two are the same / That’s what makes us beautiful / I hope we never change.” Songwriting props for this song and for “Smoked Ham and Peaches” go to executive producer John Hahn and Mary Gauthier for their collaborative work.

Music legend John Prine joins Copeland on his own “Great Rain,” with Copeland adding her sultry, stirring pipes to Prine’s classic blues chords and vocal growl. Her cover of the Kinks’ “I’m Not Like Everybody” transforms this iconic song into a blues-fueled declaration of independence. Two ballads dominate the line-up as well, adding a softer-yet-edgy sound to Copeland’s repertoire: “Promised Myself,” written by her father the late bluesman Johnny Clyde Copeland and the traditional “Go To Sleepy Little Baby.”

Throughout the album, Copeland sings with passion and insight about the chaos and uncertainty in the world while still finding joy all around her. Confidently announcing a new chapter in a constantly evolving story, America’s Child is a courageous and fiery statement of purpose, and a major step forward for the singer whose musical consciousness continues to expand as her star continues to rise.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

View review September 4th, 2018

Shemekia Copeland – Outskirts of Love

shemekia copeland_outskirts of love


Title: Outskirts of Love

Artist: Shemekia Copeland

Label: Alligator

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 11, 2015


At the 2011 Chicago Blues Festival, Shemekia Copeland was crowned “Queen of the Blues.” A title held by the deceased Koko Taylor, the award solidified Copeland’s place at the top of the blues hierarchy. Yet, anyone who follows the genre will know that Copeland is no newcomer to the music—the vocalist was literally born into the genre.

The daughter of blues guitarist and singer, Johnny Copeland, Shemekia began her professional career at the age of sixteen, dazzling audiences with her commanding voice. At 19, she released the first of her six albums on Alligator Records. Most recently, Copeland was inducted into the New York Blues Hall of Fame. The singer has been, and continues to be, a blues insider.

Copeland’s confident new album, Outskirts of Love, offers what a blues listener might expect from an insider. It speaks of isolated places, one-time encounters with love, and hard-knock tales: all familiar territory in this genre. The album includes a song by the legendary Albert King, a cover of ZZ Top’s “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” and guest appearances by blues mainstays Alvin Youngblood Hart, Robert Randolph, and Billy F. Gibbons. The instrumentation is guitar-heavy, and the 12-bar blues form weaves quietly and explicitly through the albums twelve songs. Yet, Outskirts of Love shines where Copeland begins to push the traditional boundaries of the genre.

“Devil’s Hand” melds African rhythmic sensibilities with the talented guitar work of Will Kimbrough and Oliver Wood, creating a sound reminiscent of Ali Farka Touré and Ry Cooder. Copeland’s powerful voice never lets us forget that this is the blues, just more cosmopolitan in its aesthetics. “Long as I Can See the Light” reminds us that R&B has its roots in Copeland’s genre of choice, while showing her voice to be just as capable when it assumes a slower pace. A third of the album was written by Copeland’s long-term manager and the executive producer of Outskirts of Love, John Hahn. The aforementioned Oliver Wood produced the album, showing that he is as comfortable behind the mixing board as he is with a guitar in his hands.

In sum, Outskirts of Love is a reminder why Shemekia Copeland is the “Queen of the Blues”: her powerful voice, strong musical partners, and creative license with the genre reaffirm her reign.

Listen on Spotify here.

Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach



View review November 2nd, 2015

Welcome to the September 2018 Issue

BG September image
This month we’re featuring Product of Our Souls: The Sound and Sway of James Reese Europe’s Society Orchestra—the earliest mainstream recordings of an African American dance band—in an authoritative package from Archeophone Records.  In honor of Gospel Music Heritage Month, there are two new compilations from the Gospel Friend label: the two-CD Soul Don’t Worry! Black Gospel During the Civil Rights Era 1953-1967, and the tribute to Ohio gospel artist and composer Prof. Harold Boggs, Lord Give Me Strength.

New jazz releases include Cécile McLorin Salvant’s forthcoming album The Window, the Snarky Puppy affiliated group Ghost-Note’s Swagism, American steel pan player Jonathan Scales’ Pillar with his group Fourchestra, jazz flutist/composer Nicole Mitchell’s Maroon Cloud, the vocal group Take 6’s Iconic, Marcus Miller’s Laid Black (with a guest appearance by Take 6), and Diana Purim & Eyedentity’s exploration of Brazilian jazz/trip hop, Many Bodies, One Mind.

Rock-oriented releases include Corey Glover’s new supergroup Ultraphonix’s debut Original Human Music, punk legend Jean Beauvoir’s Rock Masterpieces Vol. 1, and Sean Ardoin’s Kreole Rock and Soul. Portland, Oregon’s Ural Thomas & The Pain confirm it is The Right Time for old-school R&B, “Queen of the Blues” Shemekia Copeland offers America’s Child, boogie woogie pianist Errol Dixon releases the 1973 live recording Midnight Train, and Delmark Records marks the label’s 65th anniversary with Tribute.

Wrapping up this issue is the late Australian indigenous musician Gurrumul’s final release and orchestral collaboration Djarimirri: Child of the Rainbow, Ugandan flutist Samite’s music of Resilience, and our list of August 2018 Black Music Releases of Note.

View review September 4th, 2018

Alligator Records 45th Anniversary Collection

Title: Alligator Records 45th Anniversary Collection

Artist: Various

Label: Alligator

Formats: 2-CD set, MP3

Release date: June 10, 2016


Alligator Records started in 1971 as one man’s dream to record the Southside Chicago blues artists who packed a tiny venue called Florence’s. Bruce Iglauer, then working at Delmark Records, began his label with just one record per year and one employee—himself. In 1991 he released a 20th Anniversary Collection to commemorate the growth of his label to Grammy-award status. Robert Mugge’s film, Pride & Joy: The Story of Alligator Records, documented the promotional tour for that compilation, and an album of live performances from the tour was nominated for a Grammy Award.

Compilations followed for the 20th, 25th, 30th and 40th anniversaries, each compiling tracks from the label’s early days and pairing with newer material. Over the years the label added artists, including many from outside of the Chicago tradition, who were either dropped from other labels or were floundering after the demise of the 1960s blues revival. Still a small label, Alligator continues to produce several albums a year and has re-released albums acquired from other labels.

Iglauer’s introduction to the 45th Anniversary Collection sets this collection apart as a retrospective not of the entire backlist, but mainly of the artists who have recorded since the 2011 40th Anniversary album, plus select tracks by those who have died recently. The living and the dead are interspersed, but most of the current Alligator performers are on the first of the two disc set. Their tracks illustrate a vibrant tradition that still speaks to audiences around the world.

Disc One opens with a “house-rockin’” performance of “Hold That Train” by Lil’ Ed and the Imperials (2008). They invite the listener to “get on board … next stop: Chicago.” Since Alligator’s signature sound is “house-rockin’ music,” this track is a perfect choice to represent the label. “Cotton Picking Blues” (1973) by Son Seals (d. 2004) follows with a long, lugubrious electric guitar solo backed by organ, drums and bass that takes up much of the track. Having been cheated out of his share-cropping pay he has to “put it down.” This is the source of Chicago’s blues inheritance: musicians migrating from the Delta cotton fields to Chicago.

“Devil’s Hand” (2015) by Shemekia Copeland represents the present. The daughter of Johnny Copeland, she began recording for Alligator in 1998 at the age of 18. Tracks in the previous anniversary compilations find her sometimes struggling to compete with her horn section, but in “Devil’s Hand” her voice is robust and soulful, and the production gives her room to breathe. She has come into her own. “Can’t Even Do Wrong Right” (2015) by Elvin Bishop  is a witty take on classic blues themes with the best line: “What goes on in the dark will surely come to light.” Toronzo Cannon’s “Bad Contract” (2016) is a funkalicious blues concoction with lyrics that echo the Son Seals’ track, but instead of being cheated by a farmer, Cannon gets burned by a pre-nuptial contract!  Who wouldn’t sing the blues?

Harmonica maestro Charlie Musselwhite tells a true story of how the courage of Jessica McClure, the girl who fell into “The Well” (2010), inspired him to quit drinking and “to be a better man.” You might have to listen twice for the story though, because the harmonica solos overshadow everything else in the track. He is a true gift to the blues. Marcia Ball (2014) sings “The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man,” a boogie woogie song complete with a horn section and retro piano licks, telling the story of a pair of freak show performers.

In case you feared that civil rights music was a thing of the past, fear not. “Common Ground” (2015) by The Painkillers & Tommy Castro urges us to “stand together on common ground… everybody’s looking for someone to blame but we’re not as different as we are the same.” This mid-tempo gospel-tinged anthem tells us “It’s time to build a brand new day.” Preach it, Tommy! Carey Bell (d. 2007) & his son Lurrie Bell, sing “The Road Is So Long” (2004), an acoustic, Piedmont-inspired duo with Carey on harp and Lurrie on guitar. The track shows Alligator’s reach as well as some impressive instrumentals by the Bells.

Koko Taylor (d. 2009), Alligator’s vocal powerhouse for many years, penned a very southern “Voodoo Woman” (1975). She has a crawfish on her “shoulder, looking dead at you.” Rough and bare, backed by guitar and sax, you can believe her claim that she could make the sky begin to cry. “Don’t Call No Ambulance” (2013) is a hard-driving house-rockin’ song with a ripping horn section. Selwyn Birchwood’s gravelly voice would sound right at home on any Delta classic but has the driving force and powerful diction (yes, diction!) to hold his own against his funkelectric band. Birchwood burst onto the scene in 2013 but he is an old soul with much to say and many years ahead of him. “Don’t you call no ambulance—I’ll find my own ride home.” Oh yes, he would, and I bet he could also walk it if he had to!

Rick Estrin & The Nightcats “Callin’ All Fools” (2013) is a retro-mod song backed by organ, drums and guitar. Lorenzo Farrell’s organ solo is not to be missed. “Too Drunk to Drive Drunk” (2012) by Joe Louis Walker is a hard-driving song about not driving. This is one of the most unique tracks in the collection. Imagine if 1950s Jerry Lee Lewis had a baby with Stevie Ray Vaughan. “I know you mighta done it a million times before, but you ain’t driving outta here like this no more.” “Crazy When She Drinks”(2007) by Lee Rocker, former member of the Stray Cats, sounds a bit like his former group’s work, which isn’t a bad thing but isn’t core to the Alligator wheelhouse. The lyrics fit into a blues house, though: “It don’t make her happy – it just makes her mean.” She probably shouldn’t drive home, either.

“Take Me With You (When You Go),” from Aaron Moreland and Dustin Arbuckle’s 2016 debut album for Alligator, is roots house-rock that has them pulling out all the stops. “Your Turn to Cry” (1977), by Jimmy Johnson, is one of the few older songs by a living artist. Johnson, who is still alive and gigging at 87, lets the guitar do most of the crying but his powerful falsetto recalls the classic R&B artists of the 1950s while staying true to the blues. Texan Delbert McClinton’s “Giving It Up for Your Love” is from a live album recorded at Austin City Limits. It is a multi-tinged gumbo of roots rock styles with full horn section and no holds barred.

Hound Dog Taylor (d. 1975) and the Houserockers were the band that inspired Iglauer to start the Alligator label. “Take Five” (1974) is hard-driving house-rock song that’s light on lyrics and heavy on bottleneck guitar. “Gotta go… gotta go…. sure ‘nuff … baby.” It’s easy to imagine this quickie (2:42) as a prelude to a bathroom break or a rockin’ closer after a long night at Florence’s. New Orleans’ Anders Osborne’s “Let It Go” (2013) is a plea to give up drugs, with references to psychedelic sounds of the 1960s in the incessant driving rhythm and soaring guitar solos. There’s no resolution, just sinking deeper into a quagmire of hypnotic sounds. According to the notes, Osborne has overcome his troubles but they clearly left a soulfully felt scar. Mavis Staples sings “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” (2004) to a croaking bass harmonica (that sometimes sounds like a didjeridoo) and slide guitar. Inspired to resume her career after the events of 9/11, this track points to her bright future.

Disc 2 opens with “Cotton Mouth Man” (2013) by James Cotton, featuring Joe Bonamassa, and includes the line “The Blues cannot be killed!” What a great track to open a disc that includes many deceased artists.

Recorded live in Tokyo, “If Trouble was Money” (1982) by Albert Collins shows off his guitar virtuosity from the start in this long, languid lament that also features a fabulous sax solo by A.C. Reed. “99 Shades of Crazy” (2013), by J.J. Grey & Mofro, is funkified “roots rock” with a horn section and organ. The song is great dark-edged fun that crosses too many boundaries to fit into one category. Jarekus Singleton sings “I Refuse to Lose” (2014) while his guitar sings like B.B. King’s Lucille. Adding organ and heavy drums makes this a good pairing with the previous track. Singleton is new to the blues scene and this anthem of hard work and determination predicts a long and successful future. Though sounding like B.B. King is a great thing, he will doubtless take that sound to a new level using his own voice.

Next comes “Empty Promises” (2008) by Michael Burks. Nobody would blame you for thinking this was a classic from the 1960s. It’s one part soul-blues and one part acid-blues-rock. Burks’ voice has the richness of classic singers of that era and the guitar solos are worthy of a Woodstock revival. If Jimi Hendrix were alive he’d be flattered. Sadly, Burks died in 2012, making this song an ironic salute to a great talent. Johnny Winter is another lost soul (d. 2014). He recorded three albums with Alligator in the 1980s and “Shake Your Moneymaker” (1986) was featured on the final release. Winter rocks some impressive bottleneck guitar playing on this James Cotton tune and croaks out the lyrics like a battle-scarred blueser.

“Walk a Mile in My Blues,” (2016) is sung by Washington-born Curtis Salgado, who mentored John Belushi. Having beat cancer three times he has a right to sing the blues. His voice is emotional and rich, with no hint of any infirmity, yet wizened enough to sing the blues with authority. He won the 36th Soul Blues Male Artist award (2015), and sounds like he’ll be adding to his trophy case for years to come. “Stumblin’” (recorded in 2003; remastered in 2015), by the Kentucky Headhunters, is a fun-loving drunken ramble that could be featured in any honky-tonk or roadhouse blues venue. Johnnie Johnson (d. 2005), who was Chuck Berry’s piano player, guested on this track, which didn’t make it onto an album until Alligator released it in 2015. “I Ain’t Got You” (1995), by Billy Boy Arnold, is a 1950s-style boogie woogie that Arnold first recorded in 1955. His harmonica sets the song apart from the pop genres of that time and gives it legs.

The 12th track slows the pace with smoky-voiced Ann Rabson’s “Gonna Stop You from Giving Me the Blues” (1997). Sadly, she died in 2013. Alone and as part of Safire: Uppity Blues Women, Rabson recorded solely with Alligator. As a soloist she shows a Krall-ish side of the blues, a counterpoint full-throated singers Koko Taylor and Shemekia Copeland. “Freezer Burn” (2010), by Bnois King & Smokin’ Joe Kubek (d. 2015), is a rockin’ instrumental, filled with soulful guitar riffs, leaving us to grieve for Kubek’s guitar voice. Following is “I’m Gonna Leave You” (2004), a classic woman-done-me-wrong lament written and performed by Guitar Shorty.  The lyrics don’t quite versify but they do testify, because that’s just how bad that woman is.  If you love old-time blues, this track is one of the best on the album. “She’s Fine” by A.C. Reed (d. 2004, tenor sax) and Bonnie Raitt (voice & slide guitar), is a slow moving tribute to the blues. Recorded live, “Will It Ever Change?” (1997) by Luther Allison (d. 1997), decries discrimination—unfortunately, a message that appears to be timeless. “I can see the bells of freedom, but why can’t I hear them ring?” is a haunting lyric that rings true today.

“Amazing Grace” (2013) by the Holmes Brothers closes out the collection. Two of the three members died in 2015, leaving this, their signature song, as their own memorial on this collection. You’ll never hear “Amazing Grace” the same way again. Once again, Alligator Records and Bruce Iglauer have encapsulated the best of the blues in their latest anniversary release. We can only hope there will be many more.

Reviewed by Amy Edmonds

View review October 3rd, 2016

Welcome to the November 2015 Issue

Welcome to the November issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture.

This month we’re featuring albums with a local connection: Mind Your Head by the Bloomington-born funk band The Main Squeeze; Life in the City by Indianapolis-based reggae artist Kingly T; The Lonely Roller by Steven A. Clark (released on Bloomington’s Secretly Canadian label); and the self-titled debut album by Son Little (who will be performing in Bloomington on Nov. 6).

We’re featuring three anniversary albums in this month’s jazz releases: Silver, the 25th anniversary of the “groove jazz” band Fourplay; Vicennial: 20 Years of the Hot 8 Brass Band; and 10, celebrating ten years of activity by the Gabriel Alegría Afro-Peruvian Sextet. Also included is Reincarnation by Sonny Simmons, a new release drawn from a 1991 live set recorded in Olympia, Washington.

Under the umbrella of R&B, rock and soul we’re featuring Misunderstood by Olympia, Washington singer-songwriter Ethan Tucker; Just a Mortal Man, the solo debut from Jerry Lawson (of Persuasions fame); Happiness in Every Style by Nicole Willis & the Soul Investigators; and the first CD release of Love’s Reel to Real.  Blues albums include Outskirts of Love by Shemekia Copeland and Right Man Right Now by Zac Harmon.

In world music, we have Ballads & Blasphemy from the cosmopolitan globe-traveler Kuku and Alone from the desert-rock band Terakaft. Rounding out this month’s issue is the new compilation Packin’ Up: The Best of Marion Williams, which features highlights from the gospel legend’s career, plus our list of October 2015 Releases of Note.


View review November 2nd, 2015

September 2015 Releases of Note

Following are additional albums released during September 2015—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.


Blues, Folk, Country

Adolphus Bell: Mississippi Rubberleg (Music Maker)

B.B. King: Complete Singles As &Bs 1949-62 (Acrobat)

Gary Clark Jr: The Story of Sonny Boy Slim (Warner Bros)

Guy Davis: Kokomo Kidd (M.C. Records)

James Cotton: Live at Antone’s Nightclub (reissue) (Texas Music Group)

James Cotton: Mighty Long Time (reissue) (Texas Music Group)

JC Smith Band: Love Mechanic (Cozmik)

John Lee Hooker & Friends: The House of Blues (Klondike)

Mighty Sam McClain & Knut Reiersrud: Tears of the World (Music & Vision)

Mr. David: Put It On Ya (Waldoxy)

Shemekia Copeland: Outskirts of Love (Alligator)

Various: Rough Guide to the Blues Songsters (World Music Network)

Various: Rough Guide to Unsung Heroes of Country Blues, Vol. 2 (World Music Network)

Willie Dixon: Live in Chicago – 1984 (Hi Hat)


Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic

Boulevards: Boulevards EP (Don’t Funk With Me)

Darlene Love: Introducing Darlene Love (Columbia)

Gap Band: The Gap Band I, II & III (Reissue) (Beat Goes On)

Harleighblu: Futurespective EP 2 (Tru Thoughts)

Leona Lewis: I Am (Def Jam)

Main Squeeze: Mind Your Head (digital)

Mindi Abair & The Boneshakers: Live in Seattle (Concord)

Petite Noir: La Vie Est Belle/Life is Beautiful (Domino)

P-Funk All-Stars: Live at the Beverly Theater (reissue) (Westbound)


Thunderbitch: Thunderbitch (digital, LP)

Various: Daptone Gold II (Daptone)


Gospel, Gospel Rap, CCM

Audrey Cher: The Intro (CD Baby)

Danetra Moore: Light in the Dark (Tyscot)

John P. Kee: Level Next (Motown)

Jonathan McReynolds: Life Music: Stage Two (eOne)

Tiff Joy: Tiff Joy (Tyscot)

Walter Hawkins: Classic 3: Love Alive (eOne)



Billy Cobham: Atlantic Box Set 1973-1978 (8 CD) (Atlantic)

Bob James & Nathan East: The New Cool

Carlos Henriquez: Bronx Pyramid (Blue Engine)

Cecile McLorin Salvant: For One to Love (Mack Avenue)

Christian McBride Trio: Live at the Village Vanguard (Mack Avenue)

Duke Ellington: Black Power (Live, 1969) (Squatty Roo)

Incognito: Live in London – 35th Anniversary Show (earMusic)

Josh Evans: Hope and Despair (Passin’ thru)

Kendrick Scott Oracle: We Are The Drum (Blue Note)

Lizz Wright: Freedom & Surrender (Concord)

Mack Avenue SuperBand: Live from the Detroit Jazz Festival – 2014 (Mack Avenue)

Mariea Antoinette: Straight from the Harp: Special Edition (MAH Productions)

Mike Reed’s People, Places and Things: A New Kind of Dance (482 Music)

Miles Davis: San Francisco 1970: Classic Radio Broadcast (Left Field Media)

Orrin Evans: The Evolution of Oneself (Smoke Sessions)

Perez Patitucci Blade: Children of the Light (Mack Avenue)

Rob Reddy: Bechet: Our Contemporary (Reddy Music)

Ron Carter & WDR Big Band: My Personal Songbook (IN+OUT)

Tomeka Reid Quartet: Tomeka Reid Quartet (Thirsty Ear)


R&B, Soul

Avant: The VIII (MO-B Ent.)

Charity: Yellow EP

Jonathan McReynolds: Life Music: Stage Two (Light/eOne)

Kwabs: Love + War (Warner Music UK)

La Mont Zeno Theatre: Black Fairy (reissue) (Athens of the North)

Marc Stone: Poison & Medicine (Louisiana Red Hot)

Marvin Gaye: Volume One 1961-1965 (7 CD Box Set) (Motown)

Miki Howard: Live in Concert (Slimstyle)

Otis Redding: Otis Redding Sings Soul (Collector’s Edition) (Atlantic/Rhino)

Steven A. Clark: Lonely Roller (Secretly Canadian)

Urban Mystic: Soulful Classics (SoBe Ent.)

Various: Please Mr. Disc Jockey: Atlantic Vocal Group Sound (Fantastic Voyage)

Various: Reaching Out: Chess Records at Fame Studios (Kent)


Rap, Hip Hop

Apollo Brown: Grandeur (Mello Music Group)

Big Boi & Phantogram: Big Grams (Epic)

Blackalicious: Imani Vol. 1 (Black Mines)

Casey Veggies: Live and Grow (Epic)

Chief Keef: Bang 3 (RBC)

Curtiss King: Raging Waters (digital) (Magnate Music)

Do or Die: Picture This 2 (Rap-a-Lot)

Erick Sermon: E.S.P. (Def Squad)

Fetty Wap: Fetty Wap (300 Ent.)

First Division: OVERWORKED & UNDERPAID: THE LP (Soulspazm)

Glasses Malone: GlassHouse 2: Life Ain’t Nuthin But…

Guilty Simpson: Detroit’s Son (Stone’s Throw)

Jay Rock: 90059 (Top Dawg Entertainment)

Jigmastas: Grassroots: The Prologue (BBE)

K Camp: Only Way is Up (digital) (Interscope)

Little Simz: A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons (AGE 101)

Mayday!: Future/Vintage (Strange Music)

Mega Ran: RNDM (digital) (RandomBeats)

OCKZ: The Stuyvesant Chronicles (digital)

Opio & Free the Robots: Sempervirens (Hieroglyphics)

Paul Wall: Slab God (Paul Wall Music)

Psalm One: P.O.L.Y. (DIGITAL)

Public Enemy: Live from Metropolis Studios (DVD) (Def Jam)

Pupp Barber: Somethin to Prove (Reality)

Rawyals: Our Queendom

Reconcile: Catchin’ Bodies EP (Track or Die, LLC)

Rick Ross: Black Dollar Mixtape (Maybach Music Group)

Scarface: Deeply Rooted (BMG)

Sheek Louch: Silverback Gorilla II (Koch)

Sir Michael Rocks: Populair (digital) (6 Cell Phones)

Solow Redline: #homelessrapper (Wicked Ent)

T.I.: Da ‘Nic EP (digital) (King Inc.)

Talib Kweli: Train of Thought: Lost Lyrics, Rare Releases & Beautiful B-sides (Javotti Media)

Travis Scott: Rodeo (Epic/Grand Hustle)

Underachievers: Evermore (RPM MSC Dist.)

Wordsworth & Donel Smokes: New Beginning (Worldwide Communication)

Young Dro: Da Reality Show (eOne)

Young Thug: Hy!£UN35


Reggae, Dancehall

Bob Marley: Complete Island Recordings (12 LP Box Set) (Tuff Gong)


World, Latin

Ballaké Sissoko & Vincent Segal: Musique de Nuit (Six Degrees)

Chouk Bwa Libete: Se Nou Ki La (Buda Musique)

Daby Touré: Amonafi (Cumbancha)

Gambari Band: Kokuma (Membran)

Insingizi: African Harmonies: Siyabonga – We Thank You (ARC)

Kuku: Ballads & Blasphemy (Buda Musique)

Mr. Pauer: Orange

Terakraft: Alone

Various: Kanta Cabo Verde (Lusafrica)

Various: sounds of Anguilla (Massenburg Media)

Vieux Farka Touré & Julia Easterlin: Touristes (Six Degrees)

Witch: We Intend to Cause Havoc! (4-CD box set) (Now-Again)

View review October 1st, 2015

Dr. John – Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch

Dr. John

Title: Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch

Artist: Dr. John

Label: Concord

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: August 19, 2014


What happens when the spirit of a legendary New Orleans’ jazz trumpet player issues the directive “take my music and do it your way” to one of NOLA’s most beloved living musicians (in a dream, no less)? Such is the premise for Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch, Dr. John’s reinterpretation of Louis Armstrong standards, a tour-de-force that runs the gamut of the city’s myriad R&B, blues, jazz and rock ‘n’ roll traditions. Dr. John’s astonishing knowledge of these genres, as well as his trademark vocals and piano, are on display throughout the album, where he’s joined by a stellar line-up of special guests.

Highlights abound on every track. The deeply funky six minute version of “Mack the Knife” features a rap interlude by Mike Ladd bookended by the scatting trumpet of Terence Blanchard, and this is followed by a Latin reading of “Tight Like This” with Arturo Sandoval taking over on trumpet and Cuban rapper Telmary Diaz on vocals. “Dippermouth Blues” introduces James “12” Andrews (aka “Satchmo of the Ghetto” and older brother of Trombone Shorty), who helps to put a Treme twist on this smokin’ rendition of a song first recorded by King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band (with Armstrong on trumpet). Reigning blues queen Shemekia Copeland makes an appearance on “Sweet Hunk O’Trash,” her sassy voice a perfect foil to the gritty growl of Dr. John as they trade a bit of trash talk.

On the more traditional side, the Dr. John duet with Bonnie Raitt, “I’ve Got the World on a String,” swings on the foundation of the rhythm section featuring Ivan Neville and Bobby Floyd on the B3, Derwin “Big D.” Perkins on guitar, Donald Ramsey on bass, and Herlin Riley on drums. On the historic “Gut Bucket Blues,” one of the earliest fusions of jazz and blues recorded by Armstrong in 1925, Nicolas Payton picks up the trumpet and improvises over a horn section led by trombonist Sarah Morrow, the album’s arranger/bandleader/co-producer. Anthony Hamilton gives a contemporary reading to “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” that effortlessly combines elements of jazz with contemporary R&B. Ledisi and The McCrary Sisters take us to church on “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” which is followed by The Blind Boys of Alabama backing Dr. John on “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams.” The album concludes with “When You’re Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You),” the Dirty Dozen Brass Band lending their chops to an arrangement by Brian Quezerque (son of the legendary Wardell Quezergue), nicely wrapping up this cornucopia of Crescent City musicians and traditions.

Ske-Dat-De-Dat receives 5 stars for its remarkably inventive arrangements, stellar back-up band, trumpets galore, and guest vocalists carefully selected to enhance and not detract from Dr. John’s vision. When Satch looked down from the heavens, he definitely chose the right man for the job—and thankfully Dr. John heard the clarion call from on high.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review September 3rd, 2014

Various – True Blues

true blues

Title: True Blues

Artists:  Various

Label: Telarc

Formats: CD, MP3, DVD (coming soon)

Release date: May 28, 2013



Recorded live at various venues throughout the country, True Blues is a 13-song CD that “explores and celebrates the genre and follows its rich history from the Mississippi Delta of the early 1900s to the present day.” Producers Daniel J. Patinkin and Corey Harris assembled five top blues musicians to join Harris on the project, including Taj Mahal, Shemekia Copeland, Guy Davis, Alvin Youngblood Hart and Phil Wiggins, who are all equally dedicated to keeping the blues tradition alive.

The end result is a satisfying overview that’s weighted more heavily towards classics such as Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man” and Robert Johnson’s “Ramblin’ On My Mind”— the opening and closing tracks—performed by the group with reverence. Harris presents fine acoustic renditions of Sleepy John Estes’s “Everybody Ought To Make a Change” and Blind Blake’s “C.C. Pill Blues,” while Davis’s picks are “Saturday Blues,” originally recorded in 1928 by Ishman Bracey, and “That’s No Way To Get Along” (a.k.a. “The Prodigal Son”) from a 1929 recording by Robert Wilkins.  Hart, known more for his blues rock stylings, takes on Willie Johnson’s “Motherless Children Have a Hard Time” and “Gallows Pole,” a traditional song popularized by Leadbelly.  Wiggins (of Cephas & Wiggins) and Taj Mahal each perform two of their own songs, while Shemekia Copeland offers “Bring Your Fine Self Home” composed by her father, the late Texas bluesman Johnny Copeland. A companion documentary will be released on DVD later this summer, and it appears the group will reassemble for several tour dates in the fall.

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Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review July 1st, 2013

Sacred Steel – The Lee Boys and The Slide Brothers

These two amazing releases represent the African American sacred steel tradition, which was first developed in Pentecostal churches by Willie Eason in the 1930s.  Though steel guitar originated in Hawaii, the pedal steel has been embraced in the worship at churches in states ranging from Florida to Michigan, where its sound often mimics singing voices and moans, stirring the emotions and fitting perfectly into deep worship.

Lee Boys

Title: Testify

Artist: The Lee Boys

Label: Evil Teen Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: October 22, 2012



The Lee Boys, a Miami-based funk and gospel band that performs within the sacred steel tradition, recently released their fourth album, Testify.  This family group includes three brothers, Alvin Lee (guitar), Derrick Lee and Keith Lee (vocals), and their three nephews, Roosevelt Collier (pedal steel guitar), Alvin Cordy Jr. (bass) and Earl Walker (drums), who all grew up in the House of God church in Perrine, Florida and learned to play various musical instruments.  The fact that their father and grandfather, Rev. Robert E. Lee, was the pastor and a steel guitar player at the church must have definitely led them to this tradition.

Even though sacred steel is rooted in gospel music, the steel guitar also figures prominently in other genres such as blues, R&B, jazz, rock, and country music.  Indeed, Testify is the perfect example of the variety of musical aspects that can be expressed within this musical tradition.  You can’t help but dance when you listen to tracks like the title tune, “Testify,” with its funky bass lines.  I personally love songs such as “Smile” and “Feel the Music,” which make me enjoy the positive energies that they bring.  The band concludes the album with “We Need to Hear from You.”  In the first half of the track, vocalists’ free and sincere voices lead you into quiet worship.  Then Collier’s steel guitar kicks in the second half, totally changing the worship style into an up-beat rock tune.  It is such a clever way to entertain the listeners while keeping the purpose of prayer.

Slide Bros
Title: Robert Randolph Presents: The Slide Brothers

Artist: The Slide Brothers

Label: Concord Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 19, 2013



The Slide Brothers consist of steel guitarists Calvin Cooke, Chuck Campbell and Darick Campbell, with drummer Aubrey Ghent.  Cooke, who Nashville country steel guitarists have dubbed the “B.B. King of gospel steel guitar,” grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, in a family that went to the Church of the Living God, Jewell Dominion, which had a strong steel guitar tradition.  The group’s album was produced by Robert Randolph, one of the most successful pedal steel guitarists and leader of Robert Randolph and the Family Band, who has made it his mission to share the extraordinary talents of the masters of the sacred steel tradition with audiences throughout the world.

The group demonstrates the bluesy nature of steel guitars throughout their debut project.  “Sunday School Blues” starts with moaning steel guitars, leading into a groovy blues tune.  “Praise You,” featuring reigning blues queen Shemekia Copeland, lets us hear a great collaboration between human voice and the timbre of steel guitars.  Following is a promotional video for the album:

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In order to fully appreciate the differences between these two groups, you can listen to their different interpretations of “Wade in the Water” (The Lee Boys “Wade in the Water” and the Slide Brothers “Wade in the Water”). These performances showcase the steel guitar’s powerful mournful sounds which fit perfectly with the strong message of this traditional spiritual.

These new releases are not only a perfect introduction to the sacred steel tradition for those like myself who are not familiar with the genre, but will also be highly prized by those who already appreciate and collect this music.  The Lee Boys and the Slide Brothers are certainly destined to become influential steel guitar masters in the music industry now that they’ve expanded their audience beyond the church.

Reviewed by Yukari Shinagawa

View review June 3rd, 2013

Welcome to the January 2013 Issue

Welcome to the January 2013 “winter blues” issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Archives of African American Music and Culture.  This month we’re covering thirteen blues projects released in 2012, ranging from the 4-volume 12-CD set Plug It In! Turn It Up! Electric Blues, 1939-2005 from Bear Family to individual albums from Harrison Kennedy, Mike Wheeler, Willie Buck, Linsey Alexander, Smokin Joe Kubek & Bnois King, Rev. K.M. Williams, John Lee Hooker, Jr., Shemekia Copeland, Dorothy Moore, and the Blues Broads.

Another highlight is Linda Tillery and The Freedom Band’s Martin Luther King, Jr. tribute, Celebrate the King In the reissue category, there are albums from two Indianapolis funk groups, the Circle City Band and Rhythm Machine, as well as the first CD releases of Charley Pride’s gospel album Did You Think to Pray and reggae artist Keith Hudson’s Torch of Freedom.

Also featured this month are two roots music offerings from Eric Bibb: Brothers in Bamako with Habib Koité, and the collaboration with Louisiana musicians Deeper in the Well; the jazz fusion album Move: The Trio Project with Hiromi Uehara, Anthony Jackson and Simon Phillips; new releases from Angie Stone, Heather Headley, and Jonathan Butler; and Halifu Osumare’s book The Hiplife in Ghana.

View review January 2nd, 2013

Blues Women of 2012

The following CDs, all released in the latter half of 2012, feature five older veterans of the blues as well as the reigning queen.

Title: Blues Heart

Artist:  Dorothy Moore

Label:  Farish Street Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date:  August 21, 2012


Dorothy Moore has been around the block a few times, and reinvented herself in the process.  Over a career spanning 40 years, she’s achieved great success as a soul and R&B singer, most notably for her 1976 chart topping southern soul song Misty Blue.  Now in her mid-60s, she proclaims in the opening track, “I’m Coming Down With the Blues.”   Indeed, Blues Heart is her first full-length blues album, though it still offers plenty of Moore’s signature sound.  This is a slower, soft-around-the-edges yet still plenty soulful style of blues befitting a woman on the upper end of middle age who’s reached a more introspective plane and is now reflecting upon life and past relationships.   Standout tracks include the gospel-tinged  “I Found Someone,” the funk jam “Institutionalize,” and  the slow-burner “Let the Healing Begin,” in which Moore demonstrates her skills on harmonica (or in her words, the “Mississippi sax”).  Overall this is a very enjoyable album, and if Moore’s voice occasionally wavers a bit, she more than compensates with her wide vocal range and gutsy delivery.

Title:  The Blues Broads

Artist: The Blues Broads

Label:  Delta Groove

Formats:  CD /DVD, MP3

Release date:  September 18, 2012

First there was the Blues Brothers, now make way for the Blues Broads.  Dorothy Morrison, Tracy Nelson, Annie Sampson and Angela Strehli recently joined forces to create this supergroup which melds styles ranging from blues, country, gospel and rock. Their debut release is a live recording from a November 4, 2011, performance at the Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley, CA.  The CD is packaged with a DVD (NTSC, 50 minutes) that features a bonus track,  “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue,” not included on the CD.

For my taste the CD is somewhat gimmicky, especially in the opening tracks. The blues-rock stylings of Nelson and Strehli don’t always blend well with Morrison and Sampson, and covers of iconic songs like “River Deep” are more miss than hit. There are tracks, however, where everything seems to gel, especially on the latter half of the album when the group is warmed up and firing on all cylinders.  By the time the rollicking cover of the Mother Earth song “It Won’t Be Long” hits the speakers, with guest Deana Bogart taking over lead vocals, it’s time to sit up and take notice.  Then Tracy Nelson proves she is a blues broad of the highest order on her trademark song “Walk Away,” a terrific rendition that works well with the rest of the grouping singing back-up.  The two gospel numbers that close the album are fantastic, including the a cappella “Jesus I’ll Never Forget” and a pew-burner rendition of Morrison’s signature song, “Oh Happy Day,” which brings down the house:

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By the end of the concert I was ready to change my opinion of the Blues Broads.  When they have great arrangements that carefully consider the vocal timbres and strengths of each member, they are indeed a supergroup!


Title:  33 1/3

Artist:  Shemekia Copeland

Label:  Telarc

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release date:  September 25, 2012


Shemekia Copeland was declared “Queen of the Blues” at the 2011 Chicago Blues Festival, a well-earned title bestowed after the passing of the previous queen, Koko Taylor.  Her latest album, 33 1/3 (a nod to her love of vinyl), is one of the best, if not the best blues recording of the year (and has been nominated for a Grammy).   Copeland’s vocal talents aside, props must also be given to producer/guitarist Oliver Wood, of the Wood Brothers, who co-wrote several of the songs with John Hahn and contributes to the backing band, which also includes Ted Pecchio on bass and Gary Hansen on drums.

According to Copeland, “Every one of these songs tells a story about where I am in my life – they all connect to something that has happened to me, both good and bad.” What’s amazing is how well the Wood/Hahn songwriting duo was able to tap into her psyche on songs such as “Lemon Pie,” which addresses the current gap between the middle class and the one-percenters, and the feminist manifesto “Ain’t Gonna Be Your Tattoo,” which features Buddy Guy on lead guitar. These songs are so personal in character I was surprised to learn that Copeland did not contribute to the lyrics.

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All of the tracks have stellar arrangements and instrumentals, with Wood charting the course of the album through many styles, from the traditional to the contemporary, making sure it never grows stale.  One of the ways he accomplishes this task is to draw from musicians outside the Chicago blues clique, such as JJ Grey of the southern soul/funk/rock band Mofro, and Blackberry Smoke lead guitarist Charlie Starr, who adds a countrified pedal steel on Copeland’s covers of JJ Grey’s “A Woman” and Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight.”

There are no weak tracks on this album, so it’s hard to pick highlights.  Certainly Copeland’s cover of “One More Time,” penned by her father, the late Johnny Copeland, which shows great emotional depth, and “Hangin’ Up” featuring the dueling guitars of Wood and Arthur Nielson (a regular in Copeland’s band).  Copeland even pulls off a cover of Sam Cooke’s “Ain’t That Good News,” sung as an ode to her husband.   As with her previous albums, Never Looking Back (2009), also produced by Wood, and The Soul Truth (2005), produced by Stax’s legendary Steve Cropper, Copeland seems committed to producing blues for the 21st century with 33 1/3.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss


View review January 1st, 2013

Welcome to the January 2010 Issue

This month we’re cleaning house and taking a look at some worthy albums from 2009 that we didn’t have a chance to feature in earlier issues. In addition to three full length reviews—Rev. Timothy Wright’s The Godfather of Gospel, Wu-Tang Chamber Music, and Will Downing’s Classique—we’ve picked over 40 jazz, blues, hip hop, soul, rock, funk and world music albums that we think deserve more attention. Featured artists include Ray Charles, Calvin Richardson, K’Naan, Willie Isz, Tanya Morgan, T-K.A.S.H., Mos Def, Dead Prez, Fashawn, Fela, Alex Cuba, Ricardo Lemvo, Rokia Traore, Mulatu Astatke, Jahdan Blakkamore, Little Walter, Koko Taylor, Shemekia Copeland, Cyril Neville, Otis Taylor, Red Halloway, Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Strings, and more.

There are some other great albums released in late 2009 that we still hope to cover in the coming months, so stay tuned.

View review January 12th, 2010

Chicago Blues

Title: Complete Chess Masters (1950-1957)

Artist:  Little Walter

Label:  Hip-O Select

Format: CD Box Set

Release date: March 10, 2009

The king of Chicago blues harpists is celebrated in this five CD box set, featuring all of Little Walter’s solo studio recordings for Chess. Also included are previously unreleased and alternate takes for “Goin’ Down Slow,” “Mean Old Frisco,” and many other classics. Extensive liner notes are by Tony Glover, Scott Dirks and Ward Gaines- the authors of Blues With a Feeling: The Little Walter Story.  This is a must for all blues harmonica fans, and since Hip-O’s limited editions never stay in print for long, don’t delay.


Title: What It Takes: The Chess Years (expanded edition)

Artist: Koko Taylor

Label: Hip-O Select

Format:  CD

Release date: November 10, 2009

The world lost the Queen of Chicago Blues earlier this year, and Hip-O Select has paid tribute by remastering this great 1977 compilation featuring Koko Taylor’s early Chess sides, produced by Willie Dixon. This is as good and raw as it gets if you’re a fan of female blues belters, which certainly sums up Taylor, whose style harkens back to Memphis Minnie and Big Mama Thornton. If you’ve only got Taylor’s later Alligator recordings, you owe it to yourself to check out this compilation. From her hit song “Wang Dang Doodle” to “Don’t Mess With the Messer,” the 24 tracks are a fine overview of her early career.


Title:  Never Going Back

Artist:  Shemekia Copeland

Label:  Telarc

Format:  CD, MP3

Release date:  February 24, 2009

Shemekia Copeland, the Harlem-born Chicago-based daughter of Texas blues guitarist Johnny Copeland, is arguably the current leader among the younger generation of female blues singers, and she hits a home run with her first release on the Telarc label. The title reflects her attempt to stay true to her blues roots while seeking innovative ways to contemporize the genre, which often leads to the merging of old style Chicago blues with R&B, soul, and even a few rock licks. The album features some unusual covers, such as Joni Mitchell’s “Black Crow” and Percy Mayfield’s “River’s Invitation,” which are balanced by more traditional fare such as “Sounds Like the Devil” and “Circumstances,” a song composed by her father. Accompanists include Oliver Wood (who also produced the album) and Marc Ribot on guitar, and John Medeski and Kofi Burbridge on keyboards.

Here is a live performance of Shemekia Copeland performing “Never Going Back to Memphis” in Boston on Nov.21, 2008, which is featured on the CD  Never Going Back (courtesy of Telarc):


Title: Blues Attack

Artist:  Shirley Johnson

Label:  Delmark

Format:  CD

Release date: March 10, 2009

Shirley Johnson, a fixture on the Chicago blues scene, offers up a rollicking good time on her latest album for Delmark. With backing by the Chicago Horns, guitarists Herb Walker and Luke Pytel, and Roosevelt Purifoy on keyboards, Johnson has the ammunition she needs to convincingly deliver hard hitting blues, southern soul standards (“634-5789” and “Unchain My Heart”), and then funk it up on tracks such as Purifoy’s “My Baby Played Me for a Fool” and Johnson’s own “Blues Attack.”  A very enjoyable album that makes you think about reserving a spot at the Grant Park bandshell for the next Chicago Blues Fest.


Title: Tear This World Up

Artist:  Eddie C. Campbell

Label:  Delmark

Format:  CD, MP3

Release date:  May 19, 2009

Chicago’s Eddie C. Campbell, known as “The King of the West Side Funk Blues,” made his Delmark debut this year, his first release in over a decade.  One of the originator’s of the West Side sound—along with Jimmy Dawkins, Eddy Clearwater, and Buddy Guy—Campbell is known for his reverb-drenched guitar, powerful vocals, and a unique songwriting style, which is amply demonstrated on original songs such as “Makin’ Popcorn,” “Big World,” and “Voodoo.”  He pulls out all the stops on a rendition of Gershwin’s “Summertime,” and pays tribute to Magic Sam on covers of “Easy Baby” and “Love Me With a Feeling.”  Listening to this CD is the next best thing to sitting in a Chicago blues club on a Saturday night.


Title: Chicago Blues: A Living History

Artists:  Billy Boy Arnold, John Primer, Billy Branch, Lurrie Bell

Label:  Raisin’ Music

Format:  CD, MP3

Release date:  April 21, 2009

This two-CD set features four “inheritors of the Chicago Blues tradition” paying tribute to the evolution of the genre from its earliest days through the present. Many of the city’s past blues masters are covered, including Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Otis Rush, Sonny Boy Williamson, Big Bill Broonzy, Big Maceo, Elmore James, B.B. King, Memphis Slim, Little Walter, Jimmy Reed, Junior Wells, Earl Hooker, Magic Sam and John Lee Hooker, among others.  The first disc, recorded in analog to create a period feel, covers 1940-1955, while the second disc covers  1955 to the present.  A 36 page illustrated booklet rich in historical detail completes the set.

Here is a clip of a performance courtesy of Raisin Music:


Title:  Chicago Blues Harmonica Project: More Rare Gems

Artists: Various

Format: CD

Label:  Severn Records

Release date:  May 19, 2009

This follow-up to 2005’s Diamonds in the Rough features five more contemporary Chicago blues harpists– Reginald Cooper, Russ Green, Harmonica Hinds, Charlie Love and Jeff Taylor, as well as the late Little Arthur Duncan.  The back-up band, dubbed the Chicago Bluesmasters, includes Illinois Slim and Rick Kreher on guitar, Mark Brumbach on piano, and E.G. McDaniel and Twist Turner on bass and drums.  Selections include classics such as Howlin’ Wolf’s “Ooh Baby, Hold Me” and Johnny Guitar Watson’s “Gangster Of Love,” as well as newer compositions.  Severn must be congratulated for their efforts to document and preserve the classic postwar style of blues harp through performances by lesser-known Chicago bearers of the tradition.

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review January 12th, 2010


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