America’s Child (Alligator Records)
There’s no shortage of folks horrified at the state of the Union and the outspoken daughter of Texas bluesman Johnny Copeland gives her father even more to be proud of, beyond her eight releases.
Ain’t Got Time For Hate tells it like it is, with little time for apologies—its all-star cast going a long way to underlining the gravitas of the issues across this anthemic, soulful salvo. Contrast this with the surprisingly word-heavy Americans—a painful, rhyme-driven rap on individualism that grates more than it unifies, despite tasty pedal steel from Paul Franklin to offset the busy lyric.
Instantly redeemed by Would You Take My Blood?, Copeland’s history of social commentary continues with the ultimate anti-racist question. Producer, guitarist, and keyboardist Will Kimbrough is Copeland’s secret weapon as she tackles all the peculiarities of being American, enlisting a surprising cast of non-blues celebrities to help paint her portrait.
Case in point, John Prine duets on his own Great Rain. As disparate as this combination might sound, it works well, as does the cameo by Rhiannon Giddens on banjo in Smoked Ham and Peaches. To her credit, the historically bold and brassy Copeland turns the heat way down on this Mary Gauthier/John Hahn composition yet her vocal retains the pleasing gospel sound that’s a part of her DNA.
The Wrong Idea is continued proof of Copeland’s newfound ability to inhabit most genres while retaining her sass and relentless power—in this case, a fiddle-fuelled country song with legs. Cue Steve Cropper on the gentle ballad, Promised Myself— penned by her dad—and embrace the pure soul that is her middle name.
The exceptional In The Blood Of The Blues is more than a statement of fact—she pumps the blood of the blues, redefining it at every opportunity. Will Kimbrough’s guitar is front and centre on this blues-rocker while unidentified background vocalists help launch the ever-powerful Copeland into the stratosphere.
Awkward rhyme (“match”? “cigarette”?) partially cripples Such A Pretty Flame, yet the backdrop provided by Al Perkins’s pedal steel and Kimbrough’s guitar work together to make it soar. The darker grind of One I Love is a miss in Copeland’s arsenal, the lyric sounding foreign, despite Kimbrough’s blistering guitar Kimbrough and J. D. Wilkes’s harmonica scorch.
The Ray Davies cover I’m Not Like Everybody Else (with some of Kimbrough’s most wrenching slide) seems tailor-made as a theme song, if not her chosen way of life. The gentle closer, Go To Sleep Little Baby, exercises a softer side of the stormy singer which, truth be told, should get out more often. An intriguing bag of roots and blues as Copeland explores her options, her strengths becoming all the more obvious in the bargain.