Saturday, June 21, 2014

Music Reviews: Ruth Copeland

Ruth Copeland
Ruth Copeland is a British singer/songwriter who for a time was married to an Invictus producer. Invictus, as you probably know, was the Detroit based record label that grew out of Motown after a dispute between Berry Gordy and three of his most important songwriters (H-D-H) For a brief time in the late sixties and early seventies Invictus was a semi-successful rival to Motown, going after some of the same local talent as well as venturing into more rock based as well as experimental or low down funk music that Motown initially avoided. This latter group of music very much included P-Funk. Copeland wrote or shared writing credits on a fair number of songs on Parliament's first Invictus release, Osmium. I was surprised to learn that she had co-written "Come in out of the Rain" which must rank among the funkiest and most soulful songs which P-Funk performed. The lyrics still apply today, sadly. Copeland also sang backup on that cut, I think. Actually there are a surprising number of early seventies Invictus songs which were written or co-written by Copeland. Repaying her favor with one of their own Parliament (well most of it) backed up Copeland on her two Invictus albums and resulting tours when she decided to become the label's first "blue eyed funkateer". The songs are well written and I love P-Funk so I like most of the two releases. However Copeland possessed a clear and piercing soprano that was nothing at all like the voices of contemporaneous soul performers like Aretha Franklin or Lyn Collins. Copeland's voice was much much closer to a singer like Freda Payne. So in my view there's a few times that Copeland tries to be a belter of songs rather than a crooner and generally misses. Her voice is not built for such things. She doesn't have a lot of resonance. She can get histrionic pretty quickly. 

All the same I like her voice. Nobody was going to mistake her for Dusty Springfield but then again we all have to find our own way in this world. If you were ever curious as to what P-Funk would have sounded like backing an Englishwoman with her own take on the funk well the record exists for you to peruse.

Her song "Crying Has Made Me Stronger" is a modernized blues  f*** you lament but told from the woman's point of view instead of the man's. It's almost an answer song to BB King's "Ain't Nobody Home". "Hare Krishna" is a very positive song which seems like it should have been a bigger hit. I believe that Copeland sings both lead and backup choir on that piece. She adds serious menace to a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Play With Fire". I enjoy the call and response with guitarist Eddie Hazel. Copeland gets nasty on the Clinton written "Don't you wish you had what you had (when you had it)" which I think is a sonic textbook on exactly how to play and sing ever so slightly behind the beat and make everything as funky as can be. "I got a thing for you Daddy" opens up with Hendrix inspired backwards feedback before going into a funky breakdown that sounded like something you would have heard in Detroit area strip clubs circa 1974. Or so I've been told anyway. "Your Love Been So Good To Me" finds Copeland in full coquettish sex kitten mode. "Thanks for the Birthday Card" is a more introspective song that wouldn't have sounded too out of place on a Neil Young or Carole King album. "The Music Box" is probably one of the least funkiest and most melodramatic releases P-Funk ever recorded. The lyrics are sad. There's a children's choir and crying added in for effect. YMMV on this. Copeland goes back to the Rolling Stones' catalog for her cover of "Gimme Shelter" which is most noticeable for making the song danceable. It also has a guitar solo which never stops. Again I like such things but I know other people can take it or leave it. "The Medal" is a slightly overwrought anti-war anthem.

If you are curious about blue eyed soul singers before Adele, Teena Marie or Amy Winehouse or just are a P-Funk completist and want to have everything they recorded then you will want to look for the Copeland albums Self-Portrait and I Am What I Am.

The Medal  Crying Has Made Me Stronger Hare Krishna Play With Fire Don't You Wish You Had What You Had (When You Had It) I got a thing for you Daddy Your Love Been So Good To Me Thanks for the Birthday Card The Music Box Gimme Shelter
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