by Derek Malone
Serbian-born blues rock singer-guitarist, Ana Popovic, spent the better part of a year in New Orleans, Memphis, Nashville, Zebra Hill, and Orlando, in different recording studios constructing her magnum opus, a three-CD solo album, aptly named Trilogy. It was released in late 2016 on ArtisteXclusive Records and it is absolute high quality.
Popovic is a bit like a Lita Ford of the blues. She more than holds her own in what is still largely a man’s world of today’s contemporary blues-rock guitar players. She is also a perpetual music student. Her influences are legion, and she is fluent in many styles of playing. She has performed for many years on the blues festival and cruise circuits. Trilogy is her 7th solo album.
Rather than a unified concept throughout, this trilogy is really three different albums presented in one package. Disc one is named Morning. Disc two is called Mid-day. Disc three is Midnight. The three volumes are roughly separated by genre. Morning is a funk and R&B album, Mid-Day is blues-rock, and Midnight is largely a traditional jazz album.
Each volume was recorded in separate studio sessions, each with its own producer, specific backing players and guest stars befitting the material.
A lot of entertainment is frontloaded, with something exciting at the beginning to grab an audience’s attention. With this in mind, it was wise to make the first of the triptych the funk album. It’s the loudest, the most energetic, and the most fun. It is also the longest and most ambitious of the three.
Produced by Popovic and Grammy-winner Warren Riker (The Fugees, Lauryn Hill, Santana, et al) this volume features a large and seasoned New Orleans-style funk backing band with a horn section and gospel backing vocals. It also features Ivan Neville (nephew of the Neville Brothers) on keyboards and drummer Raymond Weber (Dr. John) who has a great second line feel.
It opens strong with the funk song, “Love You Tonight” and is followed by, “She Was A Doorman,” a new live staple. Ever the specialist, Popovic has described herself as a “B-side” person, so appropriately we have both a rousing cover of Mandrill’s 1973 funk jam, “Fencewalk,” (which might be the best track) as well as a reboot of Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s trippy, “Hook Me Up,” featuring Robert Randolph on lap steel guitar. Guitar aficionados will appreciate the ballad, “Train,” which features a long outro solo by Joe Bonamassa.
Morning is very guitar-centric, with a lot more soloing than would normally be the case on a funk album, but this is a guitarist’s album, after all. Popovic uses a lot of wah-wah here and her playing style on this record struck me as a cross between Prince and Slash of Guns N’ Roses. Vocal-wise, she made me think of Janis Joplin, if Joplin had lived a clean and healthy life.
This second volume is a shorter collection of tracks, mostly of the blues-rock variety, which is what Popovic is mainly known for. Some tracks were produced by Tom Hambridge (George Thorogood, Buddy Guy) some others by Cody Dickinson, and the remainder by Warren Riker. Many of the tracks have a harder, more raw sound than on Morning.
A good case in point is the opening track, “You Got The Love.” It’s actually an old Chaka Khan song, but so much more gritty and hard-rocking here that it’s barely recognizable.
Popovic’s voice is a great deal reflects a different persona with much more of a traditional blues feel.
For me, the most notable track here is, “Let’s Do it Again,” a contemporary-sounding R&B song that features a duet with rapper, Al Kapone.
This final volume is a foray into jazz, and it sounds surprisingly traditional. Produced by Delfeayo Marsalis of the legendary jazz Marsalis family (Wynton, Branford, and Jason are his brothers) and he also plays trombone and handles the horn arrangements. Also featured is New Orleans jazz great, Herlin Riley, on drums for most of the recordings, and Bernard Purdie (77 years old, and one of the most famous drummers ever) on the final two tracks.
Popovic’s vocals are far more soulful here and she gets to play around with guitar influences like Joe Pass and George Benson. As Wynton Marsalis often says, “Jazz is the most difficult music to play.”
It opens with a cover of Tom Waits’, “New Coat of Paint.” Double bass, brushwork on the snare and vintage horn sounds of which Marsalis is a master, set a decidedly more mellow mood, which holds throughout these last recordings.
The Duke Ellington standard, “In A Sentimental Mood,” soon follows, this time with a crisp electric guitar lead and a lovely singing voice. This is the prettiest Popovic sounds on the entire trilogy by far. She’s on to something here.
There’s also a few of Popovic’s originals on this final volume, the best of which may be, “Heaven’s Crying: aka Song for the Next Generation,” an upbeat new swing number which leads into the, “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” the 23rd and final song.
Trilogy is available on:
Amazon Music: http://amzn.to/2ormXOE