june 2012

sharon lewis
Sharon Lewis: ‘What’s happenin’ in my country…’

Well, Yes, She Is…

By David McGee

sharon lewisTHE REAL DEAL
Sharon Lewis & Texas Fire

You don’t want to cross Fort Worth native Sharon Lewis. A mainstay on the Chicago blues scene since the early ‘90s, she has made some kind of statement on The Real Deal, a title worthy of the artist and vice versa. In her husky, gritty, sassy, church-trained voice, Ms. Lewis is in some kind of mood here. On the funky, horn-fueled title track, she takes dead aim at critics who have suggested she is not, in fact, the real deal: “There’s some people who think they know all about the blues,” she sing with deceptive calm before lighting into those “people” with “they’re just all mouth and talk/they ain’t walked in my shoes/ain’t been where I’ve been/ain’t lived in my skin/don’t know how I feel/I am the real deal.” There’s nothing on this album to suggest otherwise.

The mainstream music press doesn’t want you to know this, but the best songs about what’s going on in America right now are coming from bluegrass and blues artists, not from Bruce Springsteen and most certainly not from Tom Morello. Ms. Lewis begins her album with an incisive original number, “What’s Really Going On,” that’s a damn sight better and more honest than anything on Springsteen’s new album. A spiritual kin to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” Lewis begins with what journalists call a “grabber” lead, singing: “What’s happenin’ in my country/what’s really goin’ on/can’t buy food, can’t buy clothes, you can’t even buy a home/you work all week for peanuts, my paycheck’s just a joke/I feel my life, I know my life, is going up in smoke/somebody tell me…what’s goin’ on.” The band percolates behind her, with Bruce James adding a sputtering, wailing guitar solo and Roosevelt Purifoy giving the 88s a good workout behind him. Lewis goes on to decry the state of our cities and neighborhoods where “it’s not safe for boys, it’s not safe for girls--your life is not your own.” And each time she sings the chorus, she digs deeper and brings to a full boil all the pain and frustration she’s feeling. For another bit of topicality she dips into the Wynonna Carr songbook, all the way back to 1956, for “Please Mr. Jailer,” a woman’s plaintive plea for her man to be released from his iron hotel, seeing as how he's innocent of the crime for which he's been convicted. Coming at a time when a record number of black men are incarcerated, the song could hardly be more relevant, and Lewis delivers it with an equal measure of sorrow and indignation that reaches its apex in her closing plea of “set him free--send him home to me!”

For the socially conscious-averse, Lewis and Texas Fire have a few good things in store for you, too. Her ebullient shuffle “Mojo Kings,” propelled by James’s stinging guitar and the always reliable Billy Branch’s honking harp, celebrates the many attributes, musical and otherwise, of the band named in the title; the rich, surging blues ballad “Do Something for Me,” another Lewis original underpinned by Roosevelt Purifoy’s moody, rumbling organ, finds the singer pointedly beseeching her man to make good on his commitment by simply being her man (“love me like I love you, baby/only you can set my heart free”); and in the high stepping strut of “You Can’t Take My Life,” she celebrates her liberation from an affair with a married man who redefines the concept of “player,” sending him packing with a triumphant, self-affirming assertiveness that’s mirrored in jubilant guitar and piano solos by James and Purifoy, respectively. Add a touch of Memphis soul in the horn-infused cover of Van Morrison’s beautiful “Crazy Love,” which benefits from Lewis’s gospel-tinged testifying, plus a slow-boiling rendition of Bill Withers’s “Ain’t No Sunshine” (complete with a hint of reggae in its groove) with Lewis completely in tune with the lyrics’ shifting emotions and delivering them with a balance of equanimity and ache--all this and more amounts to a moment to remember and reason enough to keep an eye on Sharon Lewis as she develops as a writer and singer.

Sharon Lewis & Texas Fire’s The Real Deal is available at www.amazon.com

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024