Ana Popovic adds new look, new attitude to the blues
Ana Popovic isn't your typical blues musician. Appearing Sept. 24 at Jergel's Rhythm Grille in Warrendale, the Serbian-born guitarist, singer and songwriter goes against normal conventions.
Popovic has just released "Trilogy," an album featuring three discs of new material. She schedules tours for no more than 10 days so she can maintain a regular schedule with her husband and two children in Los Angeles. And her wardrobe is more suited for a runway in Milan or Paris than a club or festival stage.
"I love to be glamorous," Popovic says. "I don't necessarily need to look like a blues player to play the blues. I'm a modern woman, I'm a European woman, and it's almost like this is my date night out."
Question: "Trilogy" features three discs — titled "Morning," "Mid-Day" and "Midnight" — that feature soulful R&B, traditional blues, and jazz-flavored song respectively. What was your thought process behind this release?
Answer: It was on my to-do list for quite some time, and I thought it was a good time to do it. It features 23 new tracks and spans three different styles of music, and showcases three different sides of me and my band.
Q: You recorded "Trilogy" at three cities important to American music: New Orleans, Memphis and Nashville. What effect did these locales have on the sound of the album?
A: I was actually just enjoying the different music meccas and taking the songs where I wanted them to go. I had tracks done with Memphis soul groove, and I had tracks done with New Orleans horn sections, which is quite different than the Memphis horn sections. … Then I recorded vocals in Nashville. … I went where the songs would take me.
Q: You are known primarily as a guitarist and vocalist, but "Trilogy" highlights your skills as a songwriter. Two songs on "Morning" — "Love You Tonight" and "Train" — seem like they could be from classic R&B or soul albums. How has your songwriting matured since you started?
A: Songwriting is something I've been working on steadily for the last 10 years. I started, obviously, in Serbia, and when I moved to Holland I continuously worked on songwriting. My first years were just putting some sentences down, but it's evolved to where I'm telling a personal story. … I released "Still Making History" (in 2007), the first record I would write from my own experiences, about the political situation where I grew up. … I then moved to storytelling and putting myself in someone else's situation.
Q: One of the unexpected pleasures of "Trilogy" is your version of Tom Waits' "New Coat of Paint." Why did you recast it as a jazz tune?
A: When I was listening to (Waits') records, there were so many different feels to his music. But to me, he's got a really jazzy side that he really never gets so far into that it becomes a jazz record, but he's got the parts that come out of jazz standards. When I brought it to Delfeayo (Marsalis, who produced the song), he right away came up with the right beat for it, the right jazz horn parts.
Q: You studied guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix, Elmore James, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Albert King when you were young in order to build a base from which to develop your own style. What sets you apart from other guitarists?
A: When I started playing guitar I tried to come up with my own sound and my own phrasings. I think that's the most important thing you can do with the blues, because there's not much you can do with the pentatonic scale … you have to be creative. I think my strongest point is the phrasing; I think it's unique.
Ana Popovic performs at 8 p.m. Sept. 24 at Jergel's Rhythm Grille, Warrendale. $20, $18 in advance. jergels.com
Shows of Note
Joan Osborne, Sept. 23, Byham Theater, Pittsburgh
Osborne certainly has enough material to stand on her own as an artist. Thus, her current tour, which features the vocalist singing the songs of Bob Dylan, seems a bit curious. But if one Googles videos of Osborne singing "Tangled Up in Blue" or "All Along the Watchtower," it is evident that Osborne's sultry voice and phrasings are divine match for Dylan's peerless songs. 412 456-6666 or trustarts.org
Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Sept. 24, Carnegie Library of Homestead Music Hall, Munhall
Shepherd has evolved from a brash, long-haired guitar phenom to an avid music historian. His 2007 release "10 Days Out: Blues from the Backroads," documented performances with blues legends including B.B. King, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Honeyboy Edwards and Pinetop Perkins. Since then Shepherd's own music has become richer and more sophisticated, notably on his new release, "Lay It on Down." 412-462-3444 or librarymusichall.com
X, Sept. 25, Rex Theater, South Side
X started as punk band playing the seediest Los Angeles clubs. A few weeks ago they were feted before a baseball game at Dodgers Stadium in honor of the bands 40th anniversary, with John Doe singing the National Anthem and Exene Cervenka throwing out the first pitch. Funny how times smooths out the rough edges, but over four decades the band has produced a body of work that remains relevant via albums such as "Los Angeles," "Wild Gift," and "More Fun in the New World." 412-381-6811 or rextheatre.net
Rege Behe is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.