Crystal Shawanda spent years developing her artistry within the confines of commercial country music, and was quite successful doing so. She hit the Billboard Country charts, was a mainstay on Canadian country radio playlists for a couple years in the late ‘aughts, and toured from a Nashville base.
Several years ago, the Wilkwemkoong First Nations (Manitoulin Island) singer made a conscious decision to move toward the blues world, and in doing so found her true voice. Understanding the history and intergenerational trauma of her people, Shawanda and her husband Dwayne Storbel bring all her influences—classic country, traditional and electrified blues, alt.country, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and rock & roll—to her lively, deeply impacting blues experience.
Her Voodoo Woman (2017) album was amazing, but I missed the Juno Award-winning Church House Blues (2018), so the brand-new Midnight Blues was a pleasure to receive and appreciate.
Forty minutes of moody and house-rocking blues, original for the most part, is Midnight Blues. The instrumentation is guitar-based, but Shawanda’s voice is the star of every song. She growls, she roars. She draws you near, and then pushes you away. Without doubt, Shawanda is in charge.
From “Rumpshaker”—a celebration of life and simple joys—to “I Want My Soul Back”—seemingly the story of her path from dissatisfaction with country to the freedom of the blues—are among the album’s most appealing numbers.
More introspective is the menacing “Evil,” a cautionary tale from Howlin’ Wolf of what happens when cracks appear within a happy home as well as the aspirational “How Bad Do You Want It.” Shawanda has been a Celine Dion fan since childhood, and her take of “That’s Just the Woman in Me” is sufficiently powerful to pull the Katrina and the Waves outtake into the blues lexicon.
Reviewing from a download, I don’t have the musician notes, but understand that Strobel handles much of the guitar work with Steve Marriner while Harpdog Brown also appears in what must have been one of his final sessions.
For years, Crystal Shawanda worked to find her independent agency, the ability to set her own course and perform the music she most needed to present. A lifetime of focused vision comes to fruition with the most excellent Midnight Blues, continuing Shawanda’s expansive musical journey.