Shemekia Copeland is a blues tour de force. But more than that, she is an accomplished singer songwriter unafraid to tackle real world issues. In a recent interview with NPR, she reflected that at 36, she’s travelled a lot and seen a lot and, “I want to talk about it all – domestic violence, data rape, politicians who are completely corrupt.”
On her new album “Outskirts of Love,” she makes us pay attention to those on the margins – victims of date rape in Crossbone Beach and of domestic violence in Drivin’ Out of Nashville, the homeless, in Cardboard Box, and those living in poverty in Lord Help the Poor And Needy. These songs, plus covers of Albert King, ZZ Top, Jesse Winchester and her father, Johnny Clyde Copeland, make for one very fine album, an almighty fusing of blues and gospel.
There’s a healthy reminder in this album of the ills of modern America, and indeed the world. In terms of the specific problems Shemekia brings up, figures show that just two years ago, there were 45.3 million people in the US living in poverty, with the poverty rate for Blacks and Hispanics at around 25%; and that 14% percent of households did not have enough food. Pretty shocking for the world’s wealthiest nation. And when we pan out to the rest of the world, an estimated 1 billion people are poor (at the $1.25 income per day level), and 800 million go hungry every day. Violence against women continues unabated all round the world, and in the US alone, 4,7m women experience physical violence by an intimate partner every year and 1 in 4 women are victims of severe violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes.
So thanks, Shemekia for the reality check – along with the fabulous music, brought alive by her outstanding vocal performances, which vary between understated, powerhouse, sultry and downright bluesy.
Hope shines through of course, too, in this top-notch set of songs. In Jesse Mae Hemphill’s Lord, Help the Poor, we hear about the “poor and needy,” the “gamblin’ man” and the “motherless children,” but there’s a day to come “When we all rise together, And face the rising sun.” And in Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Long As I Can See The Light, “I won’t, won’t, Be losin’ my way, Long as I can see the light.”
And that’s the gospel right there – the reality of the mess of the world on the one hand and the hope for a better day, made a reality by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Check out Paul’s take on this in chapter 8 of his letter to the Romans – sin, futility, suffering, hunger, danger of violence, lack of shelter on the one hand, but on the other, hope for ourselves and the very creation itself – and above all, the unerring, unfailing love of God, from which nothing can separate us.
As Shemekia sings in her cover of ZZ Top’s Jesus Just Left Chicago, “You might not see him in person but he’ll see you just the same, Yeah, yeah, You don’t have to worry ’cause takin’ care of business is his name.”