Blues Vocalist Shemekia Copeland Rocks Out on 'Outskirts of Love' From New Album: Exclusive Song Premiere

Courtesy of Alligator Records
Shemekia Copeland

Shemekia Copeland isn't calling her new Outskirts of Love a concept album. But it does have a thematic thread that runs through its 12 blues-and--R&B-infused songs, from the title track to the closing rendition of Jessie Mae Hemphill's "Lord, Help The Poor And Needy."

"On this particular record I just think everybody in the (songs) is on the outskirts," Copeland tells Billboard. "Whether they're homeless or being date-raped or can't find the right partner in life or looking for justice in some sort of way and they can't find it, it's all about people on the outskirts. And at the very end of the record it's about 'Lord, help us! We all need help 'cause we're all going through something. Just help us!'"

Listen to the title track, which Billboard is premiering exclusively below. 

Copeland and her collaborators -- primarily producer Oliver Wood of the Wood Brothers and John Hahn, who co-wrote four of the songs -- didn't necessarily have the socially conscious nature of the album in mind when they started the project. "We had a couple songs, but then I think everything else kinda fell into place. It just happened naturally," she says.

The title track, however, came along later in the process and reflects the tone the album was taking. 

"It's actually a song that John had written, lyrically, for me maybe 10 or 12 years ago, but it wasn't on the first pass of our record," Copeland says. "He completely rewrote it to suit me and what's happening now and gave it to Oliver and it ended up working out so perfectly with the rest of the songs. Like I said, everyone on this record is on the outskirts of something -- on this one, too."

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Outskirts of Love also features a cover of her father Johnny Clyde Copeland's "Devil's Hand" (she records one of his songs for each of her albums) as well as versions of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Long As I Can See the Light," ZZ Top's "Jesus Just Left Chicago" (with Billy F. Gibbons guesting on guitar), Albert King's "Wrapped Up in Love Again and songs by Solomon Burke, Jesse Winchester and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. Other guests include Robert Randolph, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Will Kimbrough and Pete Finney. 

The album marks Copeland's return to Alligator Records, for whom she recorded her first four albums between 1998-2006.

"I'm excited to come back," says Copeland, who released two more albums during the interim. "I always felt like (Alligator) was home, but just like when you're a teenager you always want to spread your wings a little bit, and I'm so happy I did that. It's the best thing I could've ever done. I think I found my voice a little bit more and lived a little more and found my style and found my voice and found what I want to do. Sometimes you just need to take time to do that, and then you bring it back to where you came from."