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Bound for Glory

[whitespace] Singer/guitarist Deborah Coleman finds her voice as a blueswoman

By Nicky Baxter

Deborah Coleman's show-stopping performance at this summer's Fountain Blues Festival proved beyond a doubt that the singer/guitarist is bound for glory. On a bill that included the great R. L. Burnside, unheralded blues/jazz genius Ray Bailey and local hero Tommy Castro, Coleman stood out like a beacon. Her stage presence was captivating, her musicianship flawless. Backed by Bailey's band, she submitted rip-roaring versions of songs from her first two albums. The clincher was a spectacular rendition of Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile," a rock-blues standard she treated as if it were written by and/or for her. The crowd went bonkers, giving her a standing ovation.

With the much-anticipated release of Where Blue Begins, Coleman's second recording for Blind Pig Records, the blueswoman confirms her status as one of the genre's most compelling performers. Coleman's first two albums previewed the future. Her 1994 debut, Taking a Stand, revealed a blossoming talent. Recorded three years later, I Can't Lose witnessed her gifts as a guitarist coming into full bloom; the album encompassed everything from Windy City shuffles and smoldering R&B-tilted ballads to razor-sharp soul.

Where Blue Begins finds the musician getting back to blues basics. The material ranges from the rollicking, groove-ridden Chicago blues of "They Raided the Joint;" to the smoldering slow dazzle of "Do You Want My Love." Throughout, her guitar is upfront and brazen, reflecting her growing confidence as a budding guitar hero.

"Love Moves Me" the kick-off track, is the funkiest cut on the album. A soulful rhythmic pulse emphasizes the tune's eminently danceable beat, peppered by Coleman's tough and concise guitar. Her vocal delivery is by turns coquettish and seductive; it's difficult to imagine the object of her desire resisting this tempting promise of a night of passion. "Travelin' South" is highlighted by a similarly uptempo pace. Here the singer/guitarist is the blues archetype, a rolling stone who finds it impossible to settle down.

Aided and abetted by a rocksteady, locomotive-like pulse, Coleman's guitar alternately embellishes the beat and lashes out with jazz-infused lines whose intensity builds gradually, inevitably, concluding in a flurry of lightning fast blues-doused notes. Add the spirited radio-ready "They Raided the Joint" to the mix and it is crystal clear that Deborah Coleman can rip and roar with the best of them. Still, it is on the album's more deliberately paced numbers that the blueswoman shows how much she has grown, particularly as a singer.

On her previous discs, Coleman's gifts as a lead guitarist made up for her rather so-so vocal efforts. Blue's tracks, however show just how far she has come as a vocalist. On "Hain't It Funny," a lover's lament, Coleman's vocal is polished; one moment moaning pitiably, the next hissing accusingly; her ability to wrench every ounce of emotion from a phrase is manifest. "The Dream," another slow-burner, is equally effective. On this one, Coleman's husky alto compels the listener to feel her yearning, sliding down to caress blues-bent notes, arching gracefully upward without any noticeable strain. No longer a liability, Coleman's newly improved vocal style now enhances her acknowledged gifts as a guitarist, making her a double-threat. Where Blue Begins a genuinely fulfilling effort, an accomplishment that will no doubt hasten Coleman's ascendancy to the top of today's blues crop.

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Web extra to the November 5-11, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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