By Mike O’Cull
JUNO Award-winning vocalist and songwriter Crystal Shawanda puts down some serious heat on her new record Midnight Blues.
The album is set to drop September 30th, 2022 on True North Records and is loaded with the high-octane blend of blues, rock, and Americana that has become Shawanda’s calling card. Dewayne Strobel, her husband and frequent collaborator, produced and engineered in Nashville. The set is a mix of original songs and covers of the Howlin’ Wolf classic “Evil” and the Celine Dion hit “That’s Just The Woman In Me.” It’s a wonderful showcase for Shawanda’s raspy vocal tones, strong belt, and creative instincts. She’s one of the top vocal talents Canada has ever produced and Midnight Blues is going to win her scads of new fans.
Born in Wiikwemkoong First Nation, on Manitoulin Island, in Northern Ontario, Crystal was introduced to the blues and old-time country by her family. “I was also into other styles of music that led me to the blues,” she said, naming sounds ranging from Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog,” written by Big Mama Thornton, to R&B/pop star Monica’s “Misty Blue,” written by Dorothy Moore, as important parts of her development.
Shawanda began her professional career as a hit-making country singer before shifting into blues. She hit paydirt in her early 20s after signing a U.S. record deal with RCA Nashville. Her 2008 album Dawn of a New Day, featuring the single “You Can Let Go,” reached Number One on the Canadian Country Album chart and Number 16 on the Billboard Top Country Albums, the highest-ever charting album by a full-blooded Canadian First Nations country artist. She moved into the blues in 2014 with the release of her record The Whole World’s Got The Blues. Midnight Blues is her fifth album in the genre.
Crystal opens her record with her moody, mid-tempo title track “Midnight Blues.” Her gravelly vocal tone and expressive style immediately command attention, hypnotizing your ears with late-night, minor key blues goodness. The studio band behind her is supportive and tight, giving Shawanda all she needs to purge herself of the pain she’s feeling. It’s a subtle song but works as the first cut because of Shawanda’s street-level grit and hard emotions.
“What Kind Of Man Is This” picks up the pace and rocks out more. Shawanda gets to display her vocal power here in a more profound way and she dispels all doubts about her ability to sing this kind of music. Her presence on the mic will light up your listening room and make you wish you’d discovered her a long time ago.
The soul/gospel gem “How Bad Do You Want It” introduces us to the smooth side of Shawanda’s gift and it’s just as compelling as her roar. It’s built on a laid-back soul pocket and topped off by Crystal’s performance, some sweet backing vocals, and a handful of fine guitar work. This is the part of her voice that sold country records and Shawanda loses none of her impact by going for a silkier sound.
Howlin’ Wolf’s timeless standard “Evil” finds Crystal digging down into her slow blues self and delivering what could well be her strongest showing of the entire album. She articulates that lowdown, worried feeling of being done wrong extremely well, something everyone can relate to, and throws her entire being into expressing it. The Old Masters would be proud.
Other must-hear cuts on Midnight Blues include “Why Do I Love You,” “I Want My Soul Back,” and the piano-powered soul of “Hold Me.” Shawanda shines brilliantly on each of them and demonstrates that there’s nothing she can’t sing. Don’t sleep on this record or you’re going to miss out on something special.
Pre-order/Save Midnight Blues Here