"You have to signify to qualify," Shemekia Copeland's father, the late bluesman Johnny "Clyde" Copeland, told her. And Turn the Heat Up, her 1998 debut disc on Alligator, would've made her daddy proud: from its first note Copeland exudes sass and self-assurance far beyond her 19 years. Her potent voice is simultaneously dusky and brilliant, ornamented with fine variations in timbre; she deftly negotiates extended phrases and tricky intervals with unfailing sureness of pitch and emotional intensity, and her distinctive blues style spans everything from fervid gospel to slick modern-day R & B. She elbows her way through the muscular funk blues of "I Always Get My Man," her voice ascending from burnished clarity into a high, throaty rasp; atop the galloping boogie of "My Turn Baby" her chesty shout expands into a full-blown bellow--and she signs off with a deliciously caustic sneer. Most important, though, Copeland remembers what too many vocalists forget: a song has to tell a story. She lingers over lyrics, endowing even trite throwaways with depth; on her father's song "Ghetto Child" she makes the despair feel as real as the glory she finds beyond it. Though the blues world is increasingly populated with teenage prodigies and overnight media darlings, Copeland still stands out--you get the feeling she's here to stay. Saturday, 10 PM, Buddy Guy's Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 312-427-0333. DAVID WHITEIS
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photob y Joseph Rosen.