Deborah Coleman's detractors -- mainly blues purists -- say she's too eclectic and trying too hard for mass appeal. But Coleman doesn't hide the fact that she's influenced as much by Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, and the Isley Brothers as she is by blues greats such as Albert Collins and Freddie King. It's all part of the Deborah Coleman package. Blues fans are taking her seriously enough that she's considered one of the brighter lights to emerge in the '90s. Coleman, 43, began playing bass in rock bands at 15. She admits it was the Monkees, the made-for-television pop stars of the '60s, that got her thinking about a musical career (her favorite Monkee was Mike Nesmith). She took up guitar during the British blues boom of the late '60s and found her inspiration when she attended a show that included Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and John Lee Hooker. She took 11 years off to be a wife and mom, but emerged in 1993 at the Charleston (S.C.) Blues Festival with two heavy-metal musicians (her brother being one). Released last year, Soft Place to Fall
is Coleman's fourth album. It finds her playing tougher and sweeter than ever. She can handle songs of both womanly pride and little-girl vulnerability without resorting to those in-your-face blues-chick or rock-and-roll riot-grrrl clichés. If there's any legitimate complaint here, it's that only 3 of the 11 songs on Soft Place
are Coleman originals -- each of her three previous CDs had seven self-penned songs.