"Y'all just want to see a black girl blush," said singer Shemekia Copeland after receiving a standing ovation at the Birchmere on Thursday night. The 23-year-old blues belter earned the applause by singing "Ghetto Child" without amplification as she strolled around the club, mingling with fans along the way. She dedicated the song to her late father, blues great Johnny Clyde Copeland, and the performance, complete with crowd-fed harmonies and a rafter-rattling climax, did the family name proud.
In fact, every song Copeland performed, including some rather slight ones, demonstrated her remarkable power, poise and personality. Drawing tunes from all three of her CDs, she casually orchestrated the shifting moods, mixing party novelties ("Sholanda's") and a country blues duet ("Beat Up Guitar") with full-throated admonitions ("It's 2 AM") and confessional soul ballads ("The Other Woman").
Songs from her latest release, the R&B-flavored "Talking to Strangers," were sometimes stripped down to the essentials by her four-piece band, allowing Copeland's mighty alto to stand out all the more. Yet several tunes, old and new, also benefited from the cresting, organ-like solos created by keyboardist Jason Ladayne and the impressive versatility displayed by Arthur Nielson, who played both electric and resonator guitars with great finesse.
An engagingly chatty performer, Copeland joked at one point that she's finally receiving some of the radio airplay usually reserved for "chicks with flat bellies." Long after their fame and figures have gone to seed, Copeland will no doubt be delighting audiences with the roar of her voice.
-- Mike Joyce