Album Review: Shemekia Copeland — Done Come Too Far

Shemekia Copeland is one of the most important voices in music today. Her chosen idiom is the blues, and her powerful, impassioned and commanding vocals are the vehicle for compelling material that’s often topical. That’s certainly the case on her latest release, Done Come Too Far.

Right out of the gate, Copeland takes on the legacy of civil rights hero Rosa Parks; the lyrics of “Too Far to be Gone” provides the album with its title, though the phrase crops up again in the haunting title track). With searing guitar by guest artist Sonny Landreth, the tune is a stellar opener for the record.

Other well-known names pop up throughout the album’s 12 tracks: Aaron Less Tasjan, Pat Sansone and Cedric Burnside all lend their substantial talents to the sessions. But even without guests, Copeland is in fine company. With a core band led by guitarist Will Kimbrough (co-writer with J. Hahn of most of the album’s material), she has the backing needed to help put her music across.

And the songs that Kimbrough and Hahn compose for Copeland are clearly custom-made to her talents and worldview. The sentiment never come across as forced or slick; Copeland sings with passion and grace. Whether the song is the funereal-paced blues of “The Talk,” the spare field blues history lesson of “Gullah Geechee,” the soul balladry of “Why Why Why” or the Cajun gumbo romp of “Fried Catfish and Bibles,” Copeland always sounds right in her element, natural as can be.

“Fell in Love with a Honky” is a playful country romp with a message wrapped inside it. “The Dolls Are Sleeping” demonstrates that Shemekia Copeland is every bit as comfortable taking the intensity waaaay down, backed by little more than a single acoustic guitar. And even when delivering the funky “Dumb it Down” – filled with chunky organ and wah-wah guitar – there’s a sharp point to the lyrics. And Copeland fronts the band taking a Muddy Waters-flavored blues to close the record with “Nobody But you.”

As that laundry list of tunes and subgenres should make plain, Done Come Too Far is a musical travelogue of the styles in which Copeland is a master. “Barefoot in Heaven” sounds like a single, but choosing from a wealth of superb material is a challenge, so just enjoy the whole thing, start to finish.