Ana Popovic | 09.23.07

anap.jpgAna’s guitar seemed to enter some mystical zone, and the audience sat at rapt attention during her clear, mood-enhancing solos.





BB’s Jazz, Blues and Soups, St. Louis

If musical genres had superheroes, then Ana Popovic would surely be the ideal Wonder Woman of the blues. Few other genres have been so singularly revitalized by one performer in recent years. The Serbian-born Popovic is a brilliant guitarist (she’s been called the "female Jimi Hendrix"), a talented singer/songwriter and a fiery, charismatic live performer who’s been steadily building an international following. Although her recordings, such as the recently released Still Making History, are strong, it’s onstage where Ana (we’ll henceforth use her first name for this review; it just sounds friendlier) pulls out all the stops, and she did it again at BB’s, despite a few early sound problems.

Listening to Ana and her killer band cook up a blues buffet for several hours was truly like experiencing the rebirth of an often predictable genre. It was a wonder to behold. Launching into "U Complete Me" from her new album, Ana performed the first of many dazzling leads she would treat the crowd to with her assortment of shiny electric guitars. She’s a fluid, sinewy player, seemingly always in control, becoming one with her instrument in a manner only the masters are capable of. And she was matched in energy by bassist Ronald Jonker, who was equally impressive repeating just one powerful note over and over, or serving up primal, electrifying arpeggios. Jonker and Ana had obvious musical chemistry, and more than once they were virtually lying on the floor together performing sizzling guitar-bass duets.

Ana played the lion’s share of her new record, and some of these songs, such as "How’d You Learn to Shake It Like That?" had a sultry intensity to them that commanded the attention of everyone in the club. For this and several other tunes, Ana would start the song alone, and when the killer rhythm section commenced in perfect time, the effect was thrilling.

 "Are you with me?" Ana yelled to the crowd, and the affirming roar of response was unmistakable. "Hungry" was another grabber, with Ana playing slide guitar as nimbly and proficiently as any other style. In all seriousness, this woman is one of the greatest female guitarists around, for sheer unabashed versatility alone. On "Sexiest Man Alive," Ana’s guitar seemed to enter some mystical zone, and the audience sat at rapt attention during her clear, mood-enhancing solos. She instructed the band to "lower the volume" at one point, which they did, so she could finesse her amazing guitar tone even more.

"Is This Everything There Is?" and covers of tunes by T-Bone Walker, Stevie Ray Vaughn ("Navajo Moon") and Steely Dan ("Night By Night") all allowed Ana to showcase different aspects of her axe work, earning her and her crack band increasingly loud ovations. And there was a second set, too. Additional gems such as "My Favorite Night" (acoustic), "Still Making History" and the evocative "Shadow After Dark"-about the anxiety-filled time in her homeland when Milosovic still ruled-kept the music fresh and always appealing.

 A poignant moment occurred when Ana announced that her father, Milutin, was present-and was in fact serving as a stagehand and merchandise seller. There was something indescribably compelling about experiencing the brand of blues that Ana had first learned from this man, and was now in a position to play for a global audience. The kind of suffering these Europeans had grown up with gave a different twist to their interpretation of the blues, and Ana’s total commitment to the form was such that you couldn’t help gaining a new appreciation for it yourself. It was a rock-solid show by a woman who is revitalizing the blues like few before her. | Kevin Renick

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