Vainglorious mythology tells us that in order to play the blues, one must live the blues. Blues players originate from oppressive American environs, like the segregated South or the urban, industrial Midwest. There are, of course, other clichés, but Deborah Coleman negates most of them. Born 1956 in Portsmouth, Virginia, Coleman was moved to play music because of the TV show The Monkees and got into the blues by way of the U.K.'s Cream and Led Zeppelin.
After years of balancing the demands of day jobs, marriage, and motherhood, Coleman got her first big break in 1993 at a South Carolina blues festival, which eventually led to a five-year association with iconic blues label Blind Pig. There, Coleman honed to a fine point her rock- and R&B-tinged style. On her latest, What About Love (Telarc), Coleman ups the old-school soul/R&B content a bit and dusts her originals with undertones of Little Feat and fabled New Orleans. But she never cuts back on her expressive singing, diamond-sharp guitar-playing, and sleek, no-frills production. Coleman knows the blues, and she sings with such natural assurance that she's never had to resort to posturing as a Big Ballsy Mama to get her point across.