Artist: Ana Popovic
Release Date: 05/20/2016
As we’ve followed Ana Popovic’s career, we’ve sensed her versatility from blues to rock to funk to jazz, yet we’ve never heard it all on record until now. To say this is an ambitious project is a vast understatement. Ana lays down 23 tracks comprising over an hour of music in all of the aforementioned genres, recording in five studios, enlisting four different producers in addition to her own steering hand for a project that took a full year to complete. The Serbian born, Memphis-based guitarist extraordinaire had this to say about the project, “In an Era where most are skeptic about the current state and future of the music industry, I wanted TRILOGY to tell a different story. The record biz might be broken and Spotify might rip us off, but that can’t keep an artist down. Creativity is very much alive, and music is the celebration of life. Every record I make must meet my standards. And my standards are high. I expect a great deal from people with whom I work, but even more from myself. I’m not afraid to put myself on the line. As an artist you need to push the limits. Kill your darlings. Dig a little deeper.”
Trilogy certainly sets a high watermark for Ana’s musicianship, proving that she thrive with the Memphis sound of a full horn section and background singers, sing like the best jazz singers when backed by some of Crescent City’s best players, and crank out the funk and rock too. By now, we already know that she wields a mean axe. She is for the third straight year the only female guitarist among the star-studded Experience Hendrix Tour.
There are three discs. Disc 1 – Morning consists of nine tunes of mostly funk and R&B recorded in Memphis, New Orleans, Nashville, and Orlando. These sessions were produced by Ana and Grammy-winning Warren Riker and are similar in style but more fully flushed out than on 2013’s Can You Stand the Heat? You can certainly count on her scintillating guitar playing. Disc 2 – Mid-day has seven tracks of mostly blues rock (like that in her live shows) recorded mostly in Nashville with Grammy-winning producer Tom Hambridge at the controls. “Let’s Do It Again” and “Wa Sted” (in this volume) were produced by Cody Dickinson and recorded at the Zebra Ranch in MS. Disc 3 – Midnight, this writer’s favorite, has seven straight ahead jazz tunes recorded in New Orleans under the tutelage of Delfeayo Marsalis, who also plays trombone and arranged the horn parts. Along with the horns, Kyle Roussell is especially outstanding on piano. Popovic’s jazz guitar fits well in these tunes and her vocals here are the best vocals she’s ever put on record. She has great phrasing and is engagingly sultry.
As if that’s not enough for one record, consider also that the project includes these guest artists: Joe Bonamassa, Robert Randolph, Bernard Purdie, Cody Dickinson, and rapper Al Capone. Rather than cite certain tracks, it’s best to listen to each volume in its entirety to appreciate the full breadth of the effort. While I can pass on Disc 2, it’s the closest to what she typically plays. Instead, I find myself playing the jazz sessions repeatedly. You’ll notice, for example, how she adapts her vocals to the genre, capable of growling, shouting on Volumes 1 and 2; while shifting to a crooning, smoky late night vibe on Marsalis’ jazz sessions (esp. “You Don’t Know What Love Is”). Ana calls this the biggest accomplishment of her career. She challenged herself and we’re all winners because of it.
– Jim Hynes