Ana Popovic has the blues: Serbian sensation comes to Squaw for free show Tuesday
Lake Tahoe Action
OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. and#8212; Ana Popovic has waited her whole life to make a straight-ahead blues album, and “Unconditional,” which will be released next week, is as bold and confident as the cover image of the European artist wearing nothing but a Fender Stratocaster guitar.
A native of Belgrade, Serbia, and a resident of Amsterdam, Popovic is expected to approach Tinsley Ellis’ Bluesdays! attendance record when she makes her Lake Tahoe debut at the Village as Squaw Valley on Tuesday, July 26.
Popovic grew up listening to her father’s American blues records, and she mastered guitar studying jazz at Europe’s best music school. She played blues-based rock with her first record label, Ruff, in Germany. When she met Delta Groove Productions President Rand Chortkoff in Memphis, he started a new record label just to sign Popovic. Eclecto Groove Records now has a legion of artists who are blues-based, but fit more into the roots-rock style.
After two Eclecto Groove efforts, Popovic has made a blues record for Delta Groove. She spent more than a month in New Orleans to make it authentic.
“I had a longer preparation than for any other record,” Popovic said from her home in Amsterdam. “I decided to take a break and feel the energy of New Orleans, get a vocal coach, work on the guitar, which I do anyway, and dedicate myself for a month.
“I used to tour and to write songs in the van at the last minute and run to the studio. (This time) I wanted to give myself a break and enjoy the whole preparation of the record.”
The record was produced by one of the most respected studio men in the business, John Porter. Musicians included keyboardist Jon Cleary, harp player Jason Ricci and slide guitarist Sonny Landreth, a longtime hero of Popovic’s.
While Popovic’s slide guitar work has always been impeccable, her vocals have reached a new level and confidence with “Unconditional.” She said she did not want to take vocal classes in Europe.
“The only place you can learn to sing blues is in the States,” she said. “Every second day we would meet and work out. I fell in love with the whole process of working out your vocals and spending some time on it and#8212; taking it to the limits and beyond the limits.”
Popovic, Porter and Chortkoff went into the studio with 20 songs and they each had a say in the 12 that were chosen. Peity Street Recording has been the studio for the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Black Eyed Peas, Allen Toussaint, Charlie Hunter, John Scofield and Steve Earl.
“Business as Usual” could become Popovic’s signature blues song.
“I had a Luther Allison blues approach to it as far as the vocals go,” Popovic said. “I wanted this Luther Allison slow blues where the band kicks in and they never go down. It has edgy lyrics about a relationship where love becomes business.”
“We talk about the weather, listen to the blues;
Make love in the dark, watch the evening news;
Business as usual, and the feeling ain’t right.”
Perhaps explaining why it took so long for her to make a blues album, Popovic said she could not write about working in a cotton field or being poor or unhappy.
“I didn’t want to write about cliches about blues that I’ve heard many times before,” she said, “because I have to be true to my audience and I always want to write true to myself.”
In “Business as Usual” and throughout the entire album, Popovic plays a diverse mix of blues with modern-day lyrics.
She covers Koko Taylor’s obscure track, “Voodoo Woman” and “Soulful Dress” with a braggadocio that would make Taylor grin. Popovic is putting on a tight skirt, going out on the town and other women on the scene will be hard-pressed to hold on to their men. She goes to more extremes with “Count Me In,” featuring Ricci, who defines rebelliousness.
“Slide-show” is an instrumental duel with Landreth.
“I was playing his songs since the Belgrade days when I was 13 or 14,” Popovic said. “I thought this could be one of his songs. I said, ‘Feel free to change parts.’ We adjusted in the studio. Everybody loved the working title (‘Slide Showoff’) but Sonny said no, ‘Slideshow.’
“It was like a dream come true for me. It was the last one (we recorded) and I said, ‘Lets just have a fun jam and see if I can stand the heat being with Sonny Landreth.’ I sent him home with a large box of great wines. I loved him being there.”
Music fans, no doubt, will love Popovic finally coming to Tahoe. Bluesdays! are free every Tuesday in July and August, so there should be no excuses for not coming out. And this week attendance is mandatory, blues fans.