Few voices can command a room like Shemekia Copeland. Soulful, passionate, and so goddamn powerful, it could knock you flat on your ass if you’re not careful. On her new single “Uncivil War” from the album of the same name, she comes in like a tornado, whips you around, and leaves your breathless. Her presence may be soothing… but her voice can destroy you.
In a similar breath, her passionate and ardent songwriting can leave you gasping… and she knows it. “So many people these days call themselves songwriters,” she says self-assuredly. “But to me, there is a big difference between songwriters and people who write songs. Bob Dylan, Sam Cooke, John Prine and Joni Mitchell are great songwriters. I’m truly blessed that I get to work with [producers] John Hahn and Will Kimbrough because they are also on that list for me.”
If she isn’t going to add herself on that list, history will do that for her. Rising up the ranks of those classic songwriters she mentions, Copeland has proven herself time and time again that she deserves inclusion onto that list. Having played the legendary Cotton Club at ten years old, recorded ten albums to date (including her latest Uncivil War) and with awards and honors spilling out of her back pocket, she’s already reached legendary status without really breaking a sweat.
Topical and confrontation, Copeland has always tackled the issues confronting her and the world around her. The title track “Uncivil War” is no different. Soulful and unifying, the song carries a message of connectivity and compassion. “I’m trying to put the ‘united’ back in the United States.,” she explains.
In these divisive times especially as we head into the volatile election season, her music is needed now more ever. “Uncivil War / Same old wounds we’ve opened before / Nobody wins an uncivil war,” she sings, pleading to bring people back together and put aside the differences.
As difficult as it may be to deliver, hers is a nonpartisan message. “If artists are singing about social issues these days, they have to walk a fine line between expressing their true feelings and seeming like they are lecturing,” she explains about her diplomacy. “I hope people know that we are sincerely concerned about the state of things without being holier than thou.”
Accompanied by Kimbrough on guitar, Sam Bush on mandolin, and The Orphan Brigade on backing vocals, among others, “Uncivil War” is a lush and confrontational song that carries its gospel-esque message and demands to be heard. “Artists should sing about what they know and what they feel,” she replies. “These are my true feelings.”
While others sow the seeds of discontent while prepping for the impending dystopia, Copeland offers hope and healing, with her song as the catalyst for that alternative. When others offer swords, she offers love. “I’m so excited for everyone to hear what people who love and respect each other can accomplish artistically,” she concludes. “Like many people, I miss the days when we treated each other better. For me, this country’s all about people with differences coming together to be part of something we all love. That’s what really makes America beautiful.”