The daughter of legendary Texas blues guitarist Johnny Copeland, Shemekia Copeland is only five albums and a little more than a decade into her own career. However, in that short time since she first started hitting the road with her father at age 16, she’s established herself as a force to be reckoned with. Even though she released her first album, 1998’s Turn the Heat Up!, at the age of 19, her singing has never shown a glimmer of uncertainty. When Copeland picks up a microphone, she usually belts it out, and its no wonder she’s been compared to singers like Koko Taylor, Etta James, and Ruth Brown (whom Copeland got to sing with on Wicked‘s “If He Moves His Lips”). It’s not surprising that she’s racked up a bucket full of blues awards, including the Living Blues award for 2010 Blues Artist of the Year and a W.C. Handy award for Contemporary Female Artist of the Year.
Copeland recorded four albums for the Alligator label, the highlights of which are captured on Deluxe Edition. Copeland’s recorded only one record since leaving Alligator, so Deluxe Edition acts as a pretty thorough summary of her career. Despite starting off with the title track from her debut, Deluxe Edition isn’t content to offer up Copeland’s songs in a predictable “see how she’s developed” chronological approach. Instead, everything gets blended together into a well-done master mix of Copeland’s best moments.
What’s revealed is an artist with more facets to her music than one might expect. “Better Not Touch” features funky guitar and a wall of horns, while “Beat Up Guitar” is a foray into acoustic Delta Blues. “Don’t Whisper” and “Salt in My Wounds” are forceful ballads, while plenty of rock bands would be thrilled to have a song like “It’s 2 A.M.”, “Wild, Wild Women”, or “Your Mama’s Talking”. There’s even a playful Christmas song culled from one of the label’s holiday records. There’s a also Copeland’s breathtaking, powerful rendition of her father’s “Ghetto Child”; a highlight of Shemekia Copeland’s debut, it’s also stood firm as a signature moment in her career.
Deluxe Edition is full of quality blues and R&B, much of it full-to-bursting with hard-charging guitar and horns. Copeland’s voice, though, is the real draw here, and, as the ballads are especially good at proving, she’s capable of much more than just wailin’. As her career has progressed, she’s gotten more and more comfortable adding nuance to that God-given gift of a voice. Even so, Deluxe Edition documents Copeland’s rowdier years as an Alligator artist, before she apparently began opting for a more measured approach as of her 2009 Telarc debut, Never Going Back. Contemporary blues doesn’t get much more satisfying than this.