By Chris Wheatley
Uncivil War, the new album from acclaimed singer Shemekia Copeland, is set for release this October 23rd on Alligator Records. Recorded in Nashville and produced by Will Kimbrough (famed guitarist/producer), this is a project to savor. With a cupboard-full of Blues Music Awards, Living Blues awards, and three Grammy nominations, Shemekia Copeland has nothing left to prove. Uncivil War is set to be a defining entry in her discography. Featuring a mouth-watering array of talent, including Jason Isbell, Steve Cropper (guitar), Christone “Kingfish” Ingram (guitar), Jerry Douglas (lap steel), and the legendary Duane Eddy, this record goes deeper than anything Copeland has set down before, exploring issues of gun violence and civil rights in a personal odyssey that is as affecting as it is compelling.
“Clotilda’s On Fire” makes for an impressive opening statement. Referencing the last slave ship to land on American soil, the song burns and churns with twin-guitar attack. “She’s coming for you, hear the chains rattle, turn you into a slave, another piece of chattel,” sings Copeland. Her voice is capable of powerful, controlled expression, ringing clear and hitting deep. This is as memorable a slice of blue rock as you could wish for. It rolls with churning undercurrents of deep bass and subtly swinging drums. The intertwining guitars, supplied by Kimbrough himself and former Drive-By-Trucker Jason Isbell, work wonderfully, stirring up all the tension and wild beauty of a storm out at sea.
Mandolin great, Sam Bush, lends a lush sheen to title track “Uncivil War.” “Everything we love, is under attack,” laments Copeland over a largely acoustic background. The song unfurls like a tapestry, reflecting the history of America. It serves as a call for change and a prayer for peace. “Nobody wins in an Uncivil War. We can shake hands and be friends again.” Built upon a delicate framework of dobro and swaying drums, this track glitters like a pebble in the sand washed by tides of gently percussive strings.
A surprising inclusion is a remarkable cover of The Rolling Stone’s “Under My Thumb,” here transformed into a spectral, rattling and wistful slice of magic. With voice, finger-snaps, hand-drums and a mesmerizing, sliding, growling guitar from Kimbrough, Copeland turns the original inside-out, swapping gender pronouns to startling effect. “Apple Pie And A .45” shocks with the raw power of its fuzzy guitar attack and nerve-jangling lyrics. “Momma’s reading Guns and Ammo, sipping a lemonade, baby’s in the back-yard, tossing hand-grenades.” Copeland’s acerbic attack on the hypocrisy and madness of unbridled gun-culture hits hard with rock swagger.
Among many other things, Uncivil War is notable for its variety, and the versatility which Copeland and the assembled players display. “In The Dark” is slow, low, smokey bar-room blues. “Love Song” shines and shimmies. Duane Eddy’s contribution on “She Don’t Wear Pink” is an absolute delight. The guitar-man’s twangy attack remains unmistakable, ever after all these years.
By any measures you wish to apply, Copeland’s resume is already impressive. Musically, she has gained plaudits from the very top echelon. Blues luminaries such as Jeff Beck and Carlos Santana have poured down praise and, since her incredible recording debut at aged eighteen, Copeland has spent twenty-two years delivering a potent, distinctive mix of Motown class and gritty, Stax vibes. Uncivil War marks a high point in her career and that should tell you much. Taken as a whole, this is an album which, on musical merit alone, deserves a place in the top rank. That Copeland uses her platform to address vital issues of society and humanity can only be applauded. Together, those two elements make Uncivil War an essential purchase for any music fan.
Watch “Clotilda’s On Fire”
Shemekia Copeland Online