Oh but my joy of today
Is that we can all be proud to say
To be young, gifted and black
Is where it’s at
These five females, inevitably influenced by the High Priestess of Soul, Nina Simone, are making their own proud statements. Listening to them brings you from country to jazz with plenty of gospel, blues and R&B along the way. From newcomers to veterans, each is profoundly powerful and while few can match Simone’s versatility, these ladies provide that too.
Missy Andersen, the newcomer of this group, has teamed with her husband and guitarist, Heine Andersen, to deliver her sophomore album, In the Moment. Andersen’s rich, soulful voice is captivating from the opener, “Rent Party,” through charging blues numbers to slower, aching three-in-the-morning type blues and soul tunes, replete with background singers and horns aplenty. Be sure to catch “Ladies Shoes” and her cover of Snooks Eaglin’s “I’ve Been Walkin’” to fully appreciate the lushness of her superb vocals.
Vaneese Thomas is the daughter of Rufus Thomas, the iconic soul man and multifaceted entertainer. Her older siblings are soul hit-maker Carla Thomas and noted keyboardist Marvell Thomas. Vaneese has already forged a successful career as both a session and solo artist and devotes much of her time to music education as an instructor at the City College of New York. Over the past three years, her focus has turned to the blues, which is where her dad started. Thus, Blues for My Father is a heartfelt, Memphis blues style tribute to him. Like Andersen, Thomas produced the album, which features a full arsenal of horns and background vocalists, with her husband, Wayne Warnecke. “Wrong Turn” is a duet with Carla and “Can’t Ever Let You Go” features her dad. This is the work of a true professional who has harnessed her wealth of influences to deliver a gem.
The immensely talented Queen Esther, who has a degree in screenwriting from The New School, continues to experiment with her ideas in both the alternative theatre and music scenes. She has stamped her sound as “Black Americana”—a blend of blues, country, soul, jazz and rock—a sound she established on her 2004 album, Talkin’ Fishbowl Blues, and continues to develop now on The Other Side. Esther, like Simone, was classically trained, and her four-octave voice enables her to be both powerful (the bluesy “Sunnyland”) and delicate (“Oh Sun”). Her cover of Charlie Rich’s “I Feel Like Going Home” is simply stunning. She also delivers a number of country tunes featuring pedal steel and fiddle, highlighted by “My Big Iron Skillet.”
Gospel-raised Alexis P. Suter’s bass/baritone voice is a force of nature. The Brooklyn-based Alexis P. Suter Band is a thrilling live act that got their start at Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble and have since become a favorite on the festival circuit. The rocking Love the Way You Roll, the band’s sixth release, does a great job of replicating their roaring, thundering live sound. “Big Mama,” “It Ain’t Over” and Slim Harpo’s “Shake Your Hips” are especially proud, declarative statements from Suter. Based on the momentum the band is building, this album may be—and should be—a real breakthrough.
The reigning queen of the blues, Shemekia Copeland, like Vaneese Thomas, is the daughter of a blues master. Dr. John, aka Mac Rebennack, was a good friend of her dad, Johnny Clyde Copeland. Not surprisingly, Rebennack tapped Shemekia for a duet on his new tribute to Louis Armstrong, Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch. The two reprise Pops’ 1949 duet with Billie Holiday, “Sweet Hunk O’ Trash,” trading verses in a playful, irreverent style. The album features innovative arrangements of both Armstrong’s popular and obscure tunes, and spotlights many of the best trumpeters in New Orleans as well as vocalists Bonnie Raitt, the Blind Boys of Alabama, the McCrary Sisters and Anthony Hamilton. Whether it’s the spirit of Armstrong or Simone, these five gifted, hard-working ladies are confidently forging their own styles. Let their voices touch you.
– Jim Hynes
(Missy Andersen photo via missyandersen.com; Vaneese Thomas photo by John Halpern; Queen Esther photo by Tanya Braganti; Alexis P. Suter photo via alexispsuter.com; Shemekia Copeland photo by Sandrine Lee)