Down at the Crossroads has had a record year in terms of page views. So thank you to everyone who has supported us or just had the odd peek.
Here’s the 2015 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 23,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
Christmas is the season of good cheer and merriment, right? Well, there’s no shortage of blues songs which suggest there might be another side to things. Take Floyd Dixon’s 1951 Empty Stocking Blues, for example – “It’s Christmas Eve, baby, I’ve got those empty stocking blues…I’m all alone this Christmas Eve and I don’t know what to do.”
Taking things down a notch further is this less than cheery number from Victoria Spivey from the 1920s. In Christmas Morning Blues, the singer bemoans the fact that her “man’s so deep in trouble, the white folks couldn’t get him free.” He’s on a charge which is “murder in the first degree.”
This is so distressing, she sings, “I ain’t had a Christmas with trouble like this before, Them bells is my death bells…Put this on my tombstone, I died with Christmas morning blues.”
Plenty of people this Christmas are going to have the Christmas Morning Blues, their lives blighted by violence. We think of the families of those victims of gun violence this year in San Bernardino, Columbia, Roseburg and from the other 349 mass killings in 2015. We think of the innocent women, men and children whose lives have been devastated by war in Syria, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria and many other places.
Politicians wind up the rhetoric of war – Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey said recently, “we’re facing the next world war.” Ted Cruz, Republican presidential candidate suggested that “we should carpet bomb them [our enemies] into oblivion.” War and violence seem to have become a way of life. Airstrikes, “surgical strikes” are the ready answer, with the inherent presumption that modern weaponry is so accurate, only the enemy combatants will be killed. Sadly, this is far from the truth.
Is this it? Are these current Christmas Morning Blues all we can expect? It’s worth pausing for a moment and listening to Mary, the birth of whose son we are celebrating this Christmas. She has something pretty important and relevant to say in Luke 1.46-55. She sings about a vision of how the world can be because of the birth of her son. It’s a new world where the proud, the mighty, and the rich are upended in favour of the hungry, the poor and the humble. Food and dignity for those who are lacking in both. It’s a revolution.
Mary doesn’t call for a violent upturning of the world. But Mary is confident that God is on the verge of doing something. The hopes and dreams of all the years were about to be realized through the birth of the Messiah. The humble beginnings of Jesus, his peaceful life, the manner of his death and the fact of his resurrection should all alert us to the fact that God’s way of working in the world is not by obliterating our enemies, carpet bombing them or any such coercive or violent actions. A new power, a new kind of power has been unleashed into the world which can, if we allow it, overturn and change the way things are. It’s the power of love.
Mary’s song is a cry of confidence in God, of faith in God’s future, of wild imagination that things in the world can be different, can be fair, can be just. This is why Christmas is a time of joy and a time of hope – despite the hurt and the suffering many have to bear. Mary’s song is a call for us to believe and hope once more that there can be a different shape to the future, if we’re prepared to embrace God’s peaceful and loving kingdom: “Roll the truth around your head…Can you feel it, bound for glory, glory bound”
In the New Year, we’ll publish our annual Best Blues Albums of the Year. But in the meantime, here’s a reminder of Down at the Crossroads’ picks for the best albums of 2012, 2013 and 2014. Feel free to disagree!
She’s been dubbed “a ball-of-fire vocalist with a voice that’s part Memphis, part Chicago and all woman,” she’s sung for the President of the United States, and Billy Gibbons recently said she was the “reigning Queen of the Blues.” With her new album Outskirts of Love winning her critical acclaim and loads of new fans, Down at the Crossroads was delighted to catch up with her…
DATC: Shemekia, thanks for talking to us. First of all, congratulations on the new album (Outskirts of Love), we think it’s terrific! Have you been pleased at the reception it’s had?
Shemekia: Absolutely !! I couldn’t be happier. It’s gotten the best reaction of any CD I’ve ever done.
DATC: You cover a lot of ground in the songs, from violence against women to homelessness to poverty to politics. This goes against the grain of the majority of songs you hear these days, whether blues or otherwise; most are about love gone wrong or about something fairly trivial. So why has it been important to you to address these topics in your music?
Shemekia: Aside from being important issues on their own, I think it’s very important that the blues evolves. That it grows. To do that it has to stay relevant and address contemporary issues. I try to do that.
DATC: Does it concern you that some people might say, “Look I just want to be entertained; if I want to think about issues, I’ll watch the news on TV?” Or do you find your audience is more sophisticated than that!?
Shemekia: I always try to entertain and never lecture. It all depends on how an issue is presented. I’m just following in the blues tradition of telling stories. Some of my stories happen to be about topics that give women the blues…today. And yes, thankfully my audience is sophisticated enough to not only get it but thank me for talking about things that really do concern them.
DATC: There’s some gospel and faith in the record as well. You cover ZZ Top’s Jesus Just Left Chicago with its “You might not see him in person but he’ll see you just the same” and “You don’t have to worry ’cause takin’ care of business is his name.” And there are faith themes in Long As I Can See the Light and Lord Help the Poor and Needy. So is faith an element in your life and art and if so, where did that come from?
Shemekia: Definitely. My Grandma Jesse was a big church goer and I used to go with her. I’m not overly religious but I do believe in the power of redemption. And that in a world of troubles, Jesus offers hope, help and solace.
DATC: The blues and the music business generally can be pretty androcentric and at times misogynist. How have you found making your way to a successful career, as a woman?
Shemekia: I have benefited greatly from strong women who have gone before me…the Koko Taylors…the Ruth Browns…who paved the way for women today. Most people treat me well. I have no complaints .
DATC: You’ve been a professional singer for, what, maybe 15 years? How would you summarize how you have developed as a song-writer and as an artist over that time?
Shemekia: When you start out singing in your teens, it can be difficult to sing what you really feel in your heart. You’re so young that you may not even know yourself.
Now I feel like I’ve found my voice. I’ve grown and have had a chance to develop my own options and point of view . I’ve traveled.
I’ve played everywhere from India to Iraq to Brazil, every state in the Union…even played the White House for President Obama. It’s helped me see the world and its people in my own way. I’m just lucky that I get to express it. But it takes time for any person to really formulate who they are and what they want to say.
DATC: Finally, Shemekia, you’ve achieved a lot of success – Grammy nominations, headlining at major festivals, opening for the Rolling Stones, performing at the White House, and being dubbed the new “Queen of the Blues.” What is important to you, as an artist, going forward, what more do you aspire to?
Shemekia: I’d like to change people’s lives in a positive way. To give a voice to some people who don’t have one. And to help people have a good time at the same time.