For all those people who identify Ana Popovic purely with the Blues it’s worth noting that she has been using words like ‘Funk’ and ‘Jazz’ in descriptions of her sound since the early days of ‘Hush’ in her native Serbia. Certainly, if you didn’t catch those styles within the laser grooves of her previous discs then you undoubtedly will on this one. ‘Can You Stand The Heat’ is probably the closest she has come to producing the sound that was in her head from those early days, and if I say closest’ it’s only because, perfectionist that Ana is, I suspect she is already working on any weaknesses that occurred on the new CD. Has she got a lot to work on? Find out here.
Hard to believe, but this is the 7th studio disc from Ana Popovic. Her personal world has certainly changed since the last one, ‘Unconditional’ (or should it have been called ‘Uncovered’) was released and which continued down the Blues/Rock road that started on the hugely successful Eclectogroove release ‘Still Making History’. The 2011 released ‘Unconditional’ saw Ana spending more time in the States that was reflected in tracks like ‘Work Song’ and ‘One Room Country Shack’. With her recent total relocation to Memphis and her own Record Label (Artist Exclusive Records) though, it’s not so much a matter of reflection as one of revelation.
Clearly there have been big changes personally since the last CD, and they make their mark in every facet of ‘Heat‘. Whereas last year the musicians sounded like session musicians (albeit excellent ones) this time around they really sound like a Band. Working live concerts in the vicinity of Masters like BB King and Buddy Guy has also rubbed off on Ana’s style both as a musician and a band-leader. She has that confident chatty tone of BB as she spars vocally with Lucky Peterson on ‘Hot Summer Night’, with Tommy Sims on the bonus version of ‘Mo Better Love’ or narrates lyrics as on ‘Blues For Mrs Pauline’. Ana is finally finding the sound she has been searching for and it shows in her confidence and enthusiasm throughout. It certainly shows in her vocal performance. She really roars out the words where roaring is required, as on ‘Boys Night Out’ and ‘Leave Well Enough Alone’.
Probably the most ambitious track here is ‘Blues for Mrs Pauline’. It’s surely based on her experience bringing up two lively children (I wonder if Mrs Pauline recognizes herself here!), the tale of a mother angry at how her child is being treated. It’s a clear nod to the styles of BB and Buddy Guy and it’s no surprise to see the latters name listed as contributing to the song lyrics. Ana plays the track as sparingly as she can play but still sounds complex compared to the simplicity of a BB or Buddy riff. She growls as BB like as her higher voice allows too, and actually makes BB’s chit-chat talking/singing style work successfully.
There are occasions perhaps where Ana has found herself like a child in a candystore. With backing from some of Memphis’ finest players including John Williams on bass (Al Green), Harold Smith on rhythm guitar (B.B. King All Star Band), The Bo-Keys on horns and Tony Coleman on drums (co-producer) and even a children’s choir on ‘Growing Up Too Soon’. The result is occasionally a somewhat overcrowded mix with horns, guitars, drums and vocals all fighting for equal attention on some tracks, especially on some of the early ones. I much prefer the leaned down bonus version of ‘Mo Better Love’ for example as opposed to the main cut which is so full of instruments that there seems to be some ‘loose’ percussion rattling round low in the mix on my headphones which is a pity because it really is one of the funkiest and commercial laid back tracks I’ve heard in a long, long time and has some beautiful Santana-like soloing alongside a perfect use of the backing singers Stefanie Bolton and Sharisse Norman.
‘Can You Stand The Heat’ is easily Ana’s most mature release to date. It very probably represents the sort of music she was dreaming of making all those years ago in Belgrade, although I suspect that even her most ambitious dreams didn’t picture her having BB King’s drummer playing and producing an album that she was making as a resident of Memphis, Tennessee. Popovic doesn’t so much recreate the ‘greasy’ Stax sound of yesterday as give that sound a 21st Century oil change and polish.
Aside from the instrumental overkill on a couple of occasions and a questionable shot at the Stones’ ‘Rain Falling Down’ (her sound is far too clean for such a sleazy number to convince me she’s living the life – as Jagger/Richards manage to do so easily) this is a super CD. Ana is obviously enjoying living her Memphis dream – and if you get a copy of ‘Can You Stand The Heat’ you will enjoy that dream with her. Mo’ better Ana for sure!