Phoebe Lease ’21 | Arts Editor
Shemekia Copeland’s strong and powerful vocals rang out over a full house at the Iron Horse Music Hall last Saturday. Amidst witty banter and her thoughts on politics, Copeland performed both old hits and new work to an enthusiastic crowd.
The show opened with “Ain’t Got Time For Hate,” a reflection on America’s political climate post-2016. It is also the debut single from her newest album, “America’s Child.”
Copeland — a new mother — says she spent a lot of time reflecting on the kind of world she was bringing her son into. She was never afraid to speak her mind on previous albums, but her thoughts and call to action to her listeners come through especially strong on this one.
The third song on Saturday’s setlist, also from “America’s Child,” is a succinct statement against racism. As she belted “Would You Take My Blood?” the crowd fell quiet, listening intently to the lyrics: “Would you take my blood / or would you rather die than share your life with mine?”
Copeland got her start by touring alongside her father, blues musician Johnny Copeland, as a teenager. She delivered an electrifying cover of his song “Devil’s Hand,” with impressive guitar and bass solos from the band.
Although Copeland’s dominant genre is the blues, she is skilled at drawing from several fields to shape her music. “America’s Child” features appearances from country stars Emmylou Harris and John Prine, and she has also sung with Mick Jagger and Carlos Santana. She remarks on the country influence of her Nashville studio, which shines through in songs like “The Wrong Idea” and in the banjo accompaniment on “Smoked Ham and Peaches.” But she makes it clear that she will not waver from her roots in “In the Blood of the Blues,” an anthem exploring both the beautiful and traumatic facets of black history.
Her lyrics are captivating, but Copeland’s warm, charming stage presence is what really stole the show. She encouraged call and response with the audience, took song requests shouted from the balcony, and had no shortage of witty remarks. When introducing “Somebody Else’s Jesus,” she joked: “You know those people that love the Lord, love Jesus, but hate everyone else? This song is for them.”
As a first time listener, I was immediately drawn in by her command of the microphone as well as her chemistry with her other band members, Arthur Neilson, Willie Scandlyn, Kevin Jenkins and Robin Gould. They played to each other’s strengths, and it felt like watching old friends having fun with their music — not just a hodge-podge of people in a band.
The concert ended with a rousing gospel song, “Stand Up & Testify.” Copeland described visiting her grandmother’s church in North Carolina as a child, where she started developing her love for soulful music. She asked the audience to get up and clap along, and the spirit she wanted to convey was certainly felt throughout the venue. After an equally lively encore song, the band mingled and people poured outside into the chilly air, feeling energized by Copeland’s passionate performance.