Copeland rocks The Grand



Like a fine wine, Shemekia Copeland just gets better with age. The blues singer, who recorded her first album at the age of 18, turned 30 this year, an event she happily referred to during her May 14 performance at The Grand in Ellsworth.

Through the years, Ms. Copeland has not only gained confidence as a performer, she has developed even greater control over the powerful voice that has earned her numerous awards, including Living Blues magazine’s Female Blues Artist of the Year. Ellsworth was her first stop on a summerlong tour in support of her latest album, “Never Going Back,” which was released on the Telarc label in February.

Ms. Copeland opened the concert with “Sounds Like the Devil,” the first cut on the new album. The audience was with her from the first note, and by the end of the song Ms. Copeland was beaming.

“It’s so good to be back, y’all,” she announced. And one sensed she meant it.

It was Ms. Copeland’s third appearance at The Grand and she appeared fit, healthy and happy, as she gyrated across the stage for much of the concert, a short, soul dynamo in high heels. She has an engaging stage presence and the audience responded warmly as she spoke between songs of her upcoming wedding and her trip last fall to Iraq, where she performed for the troops.

Songs from the latest album dominated the set list, but Ms. Copeland also included tunes from earlier recordings, including “Ghetto Child,” “Who Stole My Radio?” and “When a Woman’s Had Enough.”

Ms. Copeland was accompanied by her longtime band: Arthur Nielson on guitar, Jeremy Baum on keyboards, Kevin Jenkins on bass, and Rod Gross on drums. All are exemplary musicians, and they responded to every nuance of the music with the deftness that can only be achieved through years of working together.

Throughout the evening, Mr. Nielson and Mr. Baum delivered exciting solo work. As the rhythm section, Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Gross provided steady, yet varied, accompaniment. All had a chance to stretch out and solo on the funky “When a Woman’s Had Enough,” a tune from Ms. Copeland’s 2002 album, “Talking to Strangers.”

One of the highlights of the concert was Ms. Copeland’s self-penned “Ghetto Child,” a song that has been a staple of her repertoire since it appeared on her first album, “Turn Up the Heat.” It’s a slow blues tune and Ms. Copeland dedicated it to her late father, the blues guitarist Johnny Clyde Copeland. After a chorus or two, Ms. Copeland brought the volume of the band down and she stepped away from the microphone, her voice filling the auditorium without amplification.

“Can you hear me?” she asked and, after receiving a favorable response, circled the auditorium, interrupting the song only to interact with audience members. One lucky man was bestowed with a kiss upon his bald head.

“Don’t wash that off,” Ms. Copeland counseled. The man readily agreed.

Other standout tunes included two from the new album, “Never Going Back to Memphis,” with its spooky swamp voodoo riff, and “Dirty Water,” which featured Mr. Nielson’s slide guitar.

The crowd gave Ms. Copeland a standing ovation at the end of her set and they were rewarded with an encore, “It’s 2 A.M.,” a rousing rocker from her album, “Wicked.”

Opening for Ms. Copeland was the Bad Daddys. The four-piece band played a tight-knit set that proved the blues is pertinent in Brooklin, Maine as it is in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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