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Shemekia Copeland Gives Her Gritty Blues a Spin on ’33 1/3′

shemekia-copland-frontShemekia Copeland has released 33 1/3, a new album I’ve not been able to take off my player. She has already opened for The Rolling Stones, headlined the Chicago Blues Festival, shared the stage with Eric Clapton and even performed at the White House.

Take one-shot each of Ruth Brown, Etta James and Koko Taylor and mix it up with the bluest-best of Bonnie Raitt, and you have Shemekia Copeland.

Her passion for singing, matched with her huge, blast-furnace voice, gives her music a timeless power and a heart-pounding urgency.

Shemekia Copland Performs

Her music comes from deep within her soul and from the streets where she grew up, surrounded by the everyday sounds of the city – street performers, gospel singers, blasting radios and local bands.

Born in Harlem in 1979, Copeland came to her singing career slowly. Her father was the late Texas blues guitar legend Johnny Clyde Copeland. He recognized his daughter’s talent early on.

He always encouraged her to sing at home, and even brought her on stage to sing at Harlem’s famed Cotton Club when she was just eight. She adds, “It was like a switch went off in my head, and I wanted to sing,” she says. “It became a want and a need. I had to do it.”

At 19, she stepped out of her father’s shadow with her 1998 debut recording, Turn the Heat Up! on Alligator, and the critics raved. The Village Voice called her “nothing short of uncanny,” while The Boston Globe proclaimed that “she roars with a sizzling hot intensity.”

She was declared “Queen of Blues” at the 2011 Chicago Blues Festival.

“I always loved vinyl records,” she says, “I loved the whole experience – looking through them in the bins at the store, taking in the cover design on the sleeve, reading the liner notes while I listened to the music.”

So when John Hahn, my manager, who also wrote some of the songs on this record, asked me what I grew up listening to, I said, ‘LPs.’” And he said, ‘How many times did they go around?’ and I said ‘33 1/3 revolutions per minute.’ He said, ‘How old will you be when this record is released?’ I said ‘33 1/3.’ It’s a meaningful number for me, especially at this time in my life and in my career.”

Her album, produced by Oliver Wood of the Wood Brothers, features Buddy Guy and JJ Grey. Copeland re-interprets songs by Lucinda Williams, Bob Dylan and Sam Cooke.

We particularly liked “Ain’t Gonna Be Your Tattoo” “Lemon Pie” and “Somebody Else’s Jesus.” Without a doubt, a must-have for this year.

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