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With a recording career that began in 1998 at age 18, award-winning vocalist Shemekia Copeland has grown to become one of the most talented and passionately candid artists on today’s roots music scene. Her riveting new album, Uncivil War, builds on the musically and lyrically adventurous territory she's been exploring for over a decade, blending blues, R&B and Americana into a sound that is now hers alone. The soulful and uncompromising Uncivil War tackles the problems of contemporary American life head on, with nuance, understanding, and a demand for change. It also brings Copeland's fiercely independent, sultry R&B fire to songs more personal than political. NPR Music calls Shemekia "authoritative" and "confrontational" with "punchy defiance and potent conviction. It's hard to imagine anyone staking a more convincing claim to the territory she's staked out—a true hybrid of simmering, real-talking spirit and emphatic, folkie- and soul-style statement-making."
Uncivil War—recorded in Nashville with award-winning producer and musician Will Kimbrough at the helm—is a career-defining album for three-time Grammy nominee Copeland. With songs addressing gun violence (Apple Pie And A .45), civil rights (the Staple Singers-esque message song, Walk Until I Ride), lost friends (the Dr. John tribute Dirty Saint), bad love (Junior Parker's In The Dark) as well as good (Love Song, by her father, legendary bluesman Johnny Clyde Copeland), Uncivil War is far-reaching, soul-searching and timeless. Guests on Uncivil Warinclude Americana superstar Jason Isbell, legendary guitarist Steve Cropper, rising guitar star Christone "Kingfish" Ingram, rocker Webb Wilder, rock icon Duane Eddy, mandolin wizard Sam Bush, dobro master Jerry Douglas, and The Orphan Brigade providing background vocals.
Among the most striking songs on Uncivil War is the true, torn-from-history story, Clotilda's On Fire. It tells of the very last slave ship to arrive in America (in Mobile Bay, Alabama) in 1859, 50 years after the slave trade was banned. The ship—burned and sunk by the captain to destroy the evidence—was finally discovered in 2019. The song—featuring Alabama native Jason Isbell playing the most ferocious blues guitar of his career—is a hair-raising look at living American history delivered with power, tenderness, and jaw-dropping intensity.
Another stand-out song is the topical title track, a courageous plea for unity in a time of disunion. The song is simultaneously challenging and comforting, as Shemekia delivers Uncivil War with passion and insight about the chaos and uncertainty in the world while still finding light in the darkness and hope for the future. Rolling Stone praised it as, "Blues queen Shemekia Copeland's rootsy message song about the divided states of America. Her gospel-tinged vocal is there to soothe and defuse, reminding us that it's time to listen to one another and, ultimately, come together."
When Shemekia first broke on the scene with her groundbreaking Alligator Records debut CD Turn The Heat Up, she instantly became a blues and R&B force to be reckoned with. News outlets from The New York Times to CNN praised Copeland's talent, larger-than-life personality, dynamic, authoritative voice and true star power. With each subsequent release, Copeland's music had evolved. From her debut through 2005's The Soul Truth, Shemekia earned eight Blues Music Awards, a host of Living Blues Awards (including the prestigious 2010 Blues Artist Of The Year) and more accolades from fans, critics and fellow musicians. 2000's Wicked received a Grammy nomination. Two successful releases on Telarc (including 2012's Grammy-nominated 33 1/3) sealed her reputation as a fearless and soulful singer.
When Copeland returned to Alligator Records in 2015 with the Grammy-nominated, Blues Music Award-winning Outskirts Of Love, she continued to broaden her musical vision, melding blues with more rootsy, Americana sounds. With her soaked-in-blues vocals at the forefront, she extended her lyrical reach, singing substantial new material and reinventing songs previously recorded by artists including ZZ Top and Creedence Clearwater Revival. NPR's All Things Considered said, "Copeland embodies the blues with her powerful vocal chops and fearless look at social issues." No Depression declared, "Copeland pierces your soul. This is how you do it, and nobody does it better than Shemekia Copeland."
With 2018's America's Child, Copeland continued singing about the world around her, shining light in dark places with confidence and well-timed humor. Singer/songwriter Mary Gauthier, who contributed two songs to the album, said, "Shemekia is one of the great singers of our time. Her voice is nothing short of magic." Potent new songs, a duet with John Prine, and a reinvention of a Kinks classic led MOJO magazine to name America's Child the #1 blues release of 2018. It won both the Blues Music Award and the Living Blues Award for Album Of The Year. American Songwriter said, "Copeland delivers the meticulously chosen material with fierce intent, balancing her emotionally moving, searing, husky, four-alarm vocals with a more subtle tough yet tender approach. The riveting America's Child pushes boundaries, creating music reflecting a larger, wider-ranging tract of Americana."
Shemekia Copeland has performed thousands of gigs at clubs, festivals and concert halls all over the world, and has appeared in films, on national television, NPR, and in magazine and newspapers. She's sung with Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Keith Richards, Carlos Santana, Dr. John, James Cotton and many others. She opened for The Rolling Stones and entertained U.S. troops in Iraq and Kuwait. Jeff Beck calls her "amazing." Santana says, "She's incandescent...a diamond." In 2012, she performed with B.B. King, Mick Jagger, Buddy Guy, Trombone Shorty, Gary Clark, Jr. and others at the White House for President and Mrs. Obama. She has performed on PBS's Austin City Limits and was recently the subject of a six-minute feature on the PBS News Hour. Currently, Copeland can be heard hosting her own popular daily blues radio show on SiriusXM's Bluesville.
With Uncivil War, Copeland is determined to stand her ground, help heal America's wounds and continue to mend broken hearts. She brings people together with her music, a spirited amalgamation of blues, roots and Americana. She's anxious to bring her new songs to her fans around the world as soon as possible. Of the new album Copeland says, "I'm trying to put the 'united' back in the United States. Like many people, I miss the days when we treated each other better. For me, this country's all about people with differences coming together to be part of something we all love. That's what really makes America beautiful."
The Chicago Tribune's famed jazz critic Howard Reich says, "Shemekia Copeland is the greatest female blues vocalist working today. She pushes the genre forward, confronting racism, hate, xenophobia and other perils of our time. Regardless of subject matter, though, there's no mistaking the majesty of Copeland's instrument, nor the ferocity of her delivery. In effect, Copeland reaffirms the relevance of the blues." The Philadelphia Inquirer succinctly states, "Shemekia Copeland is an antidote to artifice. She is a commanding presence, a powerhouse vocalist delivering the truth."