Personnel: Shemekia Copeland (vocals); Oliver Wood (guitar, background vocals); Jano Rix (keyboards, drums, percussion).
Audio Mixer: Mike Poole.
Recording information: Sound Emporium, Nashville, TN; Southern Ground, Nashville.
Photographers: Mike White; Denis Tangney Jr.
Shemekia Copeland had the advantage of good genes and a strong family name early in her career as the daughter of top-shelf blues guitarist Johnny Copeland, but 17 years after she cut her debut album, she's established that she can more than get by on her own talent and reputation, and 2015's Outskirts of Love (which finds her returning to Alligator Records after a pair of albums for Telarc) shows once again she's one of the strongest and most capable vocalists in the contemporary blues game. Copeland has a solid, expressive voice with plenty of power, she knows how to sell a song without an excess of melodrama, and with producer and songwriter Oliver Wood she's found a creative partnership that serves both sides well. Wood's tunes are well suited to Copeland's fearless persona, from the story of one woman's well-earned revenge in "Crossbone Beach" to the wild and woolly misadventures of "Drivin' Out of Nashville" (where she reminds us "country music ain't nothin' but the blues with a twang"), and the studio band (with Wood on guitar) cooks up a solid groove behind her, with guest shots from Robert Randolph, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Will Kimbrough, and ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, who sits in on a cover of his group's 1973 hit "Jesus Just Left Chicago." Copeland also shows off her sure hand with covers on her interpretations of Jesse Winchester's "Isn't That So," John Fogerty's "Long as I Can See the Light," and Albert King's "Wrapped Up in Love Again," and while Copeland respects the essence of the originals, she can bring her own personality to each number and give it life. Shemekia Copeland is one vocalist who can cut a straightforward blues set in the 21st century and still make it sound fresh and exciting, and Outskirts of Love captures her at the top of her game, young enough to still pack a wallop and experienced enough to know just what her music needs. ~ Mark Deming