Ana Popovic Empowers, Collaborates with Keb’ Mo’, & Ignites Electricity on ‘Like it On Top’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

The press leading up to the album is all about an empowering statement for females to rise to the top but the bigger news, considering so many artists across multiple genres have plied the same turf this year, is that this, Like It On Top, is a collaboration between the guitarist/vocalist/producer and multi-Grammy winner Keb’ Mo’ and the widely heralded Ana Popovic. Yes, first-hand information revealed that the two spent a week at Popovic’s home in Los Angeles crafting these songs before heading to Keb’ Mo’s Nashville studio to make this recording, mostly with Keb’ Mo’s Nashville studio mainstays. Before we get much further, suffice it say, this may be the best Popovic vocal record. Kevin Moore (Keb’ Mo’) and his mixing team found a way to make Ana’s vocals the strongest of any she’s ever laid down, except perhaps the jazz sides of her previous release, Trilogy.

Now let’s explore and dissect a bit the theme of this record. Glean these song titles – “Lasting Kind of Love,” “Sexy Tonight, “Slow Dance” and “Brand New Man.” Does this sound like an album of female empowerment? And, it’s coming from an attractive woman who has been marketed as much for her looks as her undeniable guitar and band leader skills. Yet, Popovic emerged from war-torn Serbia, made her mark internationally, several years later moved to the U.S., settling in Memphis to absorb the sounds of the South, before relocating to Los Angeles, where she and her family, (husband and two children) currently reside. Popovic is not only an amazing guitarist (i.e. the only female to star on the Jimi Hendrix tribute tours) but she’s extremely confident and can shred with the best of them. Her vocals and songwriting get better with each release. It’s no surprise that one of the top contemporary bluesmen of our time, Keb’ Mo’, would welcome the chance to work with her on this blues-influenced release.

From Ana’s perspective, this an album to celebrate women who take initiative, develop, inspire and motivate. It’s about being confident in whatever you do – about your craft, confronting macho attitudes, escaping abusive marriages, being confident in your own sexuality, and respecting the strong man you have as your partner. There are several statements about partnership here. The title track nods toward men who understand why it’s important for women to take a leadership role. The closing track, “Honey I’m Home” recognizes men who understand that the woman’s career may be more important. Popovic says, “The time has come to step it up. Becoming the outstanding leaders of tomorrow, Corner office ladies in business, politics, and the electric guitar!”

This is an album that features several sides of Popovic including a great acoustic duet where she plays slide and Keb’ Mo’ plays resonator guitar on “Matter of Time.” Keb’ Mo’ co-wrote none of these ten tunes with Popovic, the only exception being the Kenny Wayne Shepherd/Tommy Sims penned “Sexy Tonight.” Keb’ Mo’ has his understated guitar on most tracks but his vocals only appear on the opening “Lasting Kind of Love: and the title track. The other guests include Robben Ford on the title track and his smoldering guitar solo on “Slow Dance.” Shepherd, of course, solos on guitar for his own tune. Popovic’s best, most adventurous guitar playing can be heard on “Brand New Man.” There, she is indeed shredding. Excepting “Slow Dance,” arguably the last three tracks, “Brand New Man,” “Matter of Time” and “Honey I’m Home” are the strongest on this album.

It does indeed feel more like a Popovic album than that of her collaborator. There are places where Popovic venture into assaultive, wah-wah driven blues rock, with the accent on rock; but compared to much of her work, she is relatively restrained on her guitar work. The emphasis her is clearly more on the songs than the dazzling guitar work. And, as mentioned, her vocals have never sounded better.

Popovic tours with a powerful, horn adorned six-piece band and will appear throughout the states through early September through mid-October in support of this release. Popovic is a powerful live act. She is excited about these new songs. Catch her if you can.

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