On ‘America’s Child’ Shemekia Copeland infuses blues, classic rock, country and soul music into songs which wrap traditional sounds around words reflecting the concerns of now. The magical voice of Copeland gives us all hope for a better future – we see that optimism reflected on the album cover where a little girl wears the American flag as a comfort blanket, even if her eyes are downcast you sense the potential of a new day in the warm glow of the sun behind her.
Opening anthem ‘Ain’t Got Time For Hate’ is a blast of personality and protest. She has taken a look at the world around her and concluded that no matter who you are, what is happening to you that we all need to unite and do better. We ‘breathe the same air’ and have the same blood, after all. This idea is further explored in the song ‘Would You Take My Blood?’ where she asks the direct question to those who harbour racist and discriminatory views – are we not all the same inside, don’t we all bleed red? The powerhouse vocals on both songs are breathtaking.
Americans was written by Mary Gauthier, who along with legendary Emmylou Harris adds beautiful backing vocals to this song about the rich tapestry of people who make up her country. The second Gauthier song on the album is the country tinged Smoked Ham and Peaches, wonderfully showing Copeland’s versatile singing style. It’s a similar tale in terms of the lyrics – looking for the simple things in life, searching for what is real in a ‘fake’ world. References to Hank Williams, trains, spring rain, makes this as classic a country song as you’ll hear all year. And Rhiannon Giddens plays banjo on this one, which makes it pretty damn near perfect for me. The cast of supporting characters on this album is immense but they never overshadow the vocal character of the billed artist.
And then we have a guest spot from the Americana legend himself John Prine on Great Rain (he also adds backing vocals to the first track). The mix of the vocal styles with bluesy guitars makes this one a real standout. It’s about those dark forces which call you into the path of a storm and test you against the elements. At the end he concludes that Copeland should ‘take the rest of the day off’ and the listener is bound to share his admiration for her talent. When she later declares ‘I’m Not Like Everybody Else’ you have to nod in wholehearted agreement.
Promised Myself is a song written by her father, legendary blues singer Johnny Copeland. This is probably the best vocal performance on the album, her words aching with emotion throughout. Her father’s spirit also haunts the song ‘In The Blood of the Blues’ where she celebrates her people and traces the painful history of the blues.
Copeland may not include any of her own songs on the album but the savvy song choices reflect her fully realised artistic vision. I’m going to keep shouting, she declares at one point, her determination to have her voice heard is clear. In the end she finishes the album on a lullaby, as though she knows her country (and the world) also needs some soothing. Listen to America’s Child and you too will find yourself restored.