Archive for the ‘Canadian’ Tag

Thomas Stajcer- Will I Learn To Love Again? review   Leave a comment

Stajcer

Thomas Stajcer
Will I Learn To Love Again?
https://thomasstajcer.bandcamp.com/

This might be the Canadian country album of the year. Someone should tell the folks pushing  buttons at stations emphasizing forgettable Aaron Pritchett, Dean Brody, and Tim Hicks tracks.

Steeped in the tradition of 1973 classics like Waylon’s Honky Tonk Heroes and Bobby Bare Sings Lullabys, Legends and Lies, Thomas Stajcer has dropped an incredible recording on us this summer.

Name-checking a formidable influence on “Me and Willie,” a dusty liturgy suggesting “Willie’s my one and only true friend in this world,” Stajcer covers a great deal of ground within this rather concise 33-minute collection.

In true country tradition, there aren’t many good times here. The title track finds our troubadour searching for true north after being destroyed, while still passing on uncertainty within the earworm “Love Me Now (Or Never Again)”: “You may be right, I may be going nowhere.” “Wildfires,” “In The Long Run,” and “Any Old Road” cover the breadth of the country experience—a bit Corb Lund, a lot Jerry Jeff—producing an excitement not felt since High Top Mountain too many years ago.

Stajcer is the in-house engineer at Joel Plaskett’s New Scotland Yard studio, and as such the album sounds absolutely pristine. Recorded live, Stajcer’s cadre of east coast talents have created a set of new songs that appear from another time.

For those who appreciate country music of the Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, and Marty Stuart variety.

 

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Steve Dawson- Lucky Hand review   Leave a comment

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Steve Dawson Lucky Hand Black Hen Music

Immersing myself in Steve Dawson’s impressive catalogue these past weeks, I wasn’t surprised as much reinvigorated by the intensity and diversity of the music he has chosen to create over the past decade and a half. There are certainly commonalities linking his recordings—the quality of his playing, naturally, but also his obvious appreciation for the history of all roots-based music—but what becomes most apparent is Dawson’s incredible versatility. When one encounters music from a Steve Dawson album, one is never quite sure what will be heard: blues, folk, country, string-band, and jazz, it is all there. Equally evident is that there is no doubt that one is listening to a master.

Steve Dawson is one of Canada’s most significant roots musicians and producers. Now based in Nashville, Dawson continues to develop his own songwriting while honing his studio and instrumental chops.

I’ve admitted it before, and I am comfortable stating it again: most instrumental roots music albums—bluegrass, blues, folk, and the all-encompassing Americana—bore me. Wait, that is a little strong, and ‘bore’ is a lazy word. Still, instrumental albums certainly don’t engage me to the degree that music with verses and rhyme does. Still, I’ll listen to Doc Watson and Flatt & Scruggs’ Strictly Instrumental or the Tony Rice Bluegrass Guitar Collection anytime; I guess it just depends on the presentation—noodle incessantly or aimlessly and you lose me before the third cut.

No fear of that with Steve Dawson’s Lucky Hand. Mr. Black Hen Music has created, with a handful of guests, a compelling collection of—alternately—lively, moody, and progressive acoustic, instrumental roots tunes.

Across the 45-minute set are expansive and airy solo and duet pieces as well as a few full-blown string wizard combo collaborations. What is especially appealing (but not terribly surprising) is the multiplicity of sounds Dawson brings to his compositions. There is a subtle bluegrass groove to “Hollow Tree Gap,” while the atmospheric “Lucky Hand,” “Bentonia Blues,” and “Hale Road Revelation” have blues foundations, the latter featuring an impressive slide performance. Dawson lays out a fitting and inspired tribute to Doc Watson-styled phrasing and picking on “Lonesome Ace.”

Dawson also circles back to long-time partner Jesse Zubot on several string-rich pieces including the playful “Old Hickory Breakdown” and the musical imagery that is “Bone Cave.” Dawson is further complemented by Josh Zubot (violin), Peggy Lee (cello), and John Kastelic (viola).  John Reischman joins Dawson for the slide and mandolin duet “Little Harpeth,” a piece that (to these abused and untrained ears) weaves into near neoclassical territory.

The cinematic opening “The Circuit Rider of Pigeon Forge” is an expansive suite effectively incorporating ostensibly discordant essentials of western film scores of the 50s, chamber music, and intimate late-night guitar progressions with rock ‘n’ roll fervor. Somehow, it all works, and sets the tone for a musical journey that is consistently challenging, surprising, and unblemished.

Lucky Hand is Steve Dawson’s eighth ‘solo’ album. It stands comfortably beside his best albums including Solid States & Loose Ends and Nightshade.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee.

 

 

 

 

Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar- Run To Me review   2 comments

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Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar Run to Me Gypsy Soul www.SamanthaMartin.ca

Some of the faces, voices, and instruments have changed since Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar’s debut album of three (really? three!) years ago, but the sound and outlook continues to rain joy and sorrow in equal measure: soulful, animated, and vigorous.

Samantha Martin’s slightly gravelly voice brings each of the ten included songs to life; she isn’t messing around here: nothing is wasted, no going through the motions. When she demands, “Tell me where you been,” in “All Night Long,” you know she already has the philanderer nailed.

Without doubt, Martin is the focus here, but Delta Sugar gets co-billing for a reason. Vocalists Sherie Marshall and Mwansa Mwansa provide Martin with support and depth that is more than impressive, while the nine-piece band create a substantial sound that is bright and resonant, simultaneously fresh and retro. This is a soul revue with few peers.

At their peak, Gladys Knight or Marilyn McCoo couldn’t sing these bittersweet anthems any better. “Will We Ever Learn,” indeed: “They say, ‘Love is blind;’ I tend to think it’s when lust is on your mind…” This honest distillation of what happens when one goes looking for love in the wrong places—”one of us had to get burned”—simmers over a bed of horns including Andrew Moljgun’s saxophone. “Over You” has a similar 70s sound, mature and bad ass, accepting no sass.

Lyrically, Martin and her various co-writers keep things rather ‘matter of fact.’ “You don’t have to put a ring on it—Baby, just put your back into it,” she sings on “Wanna Be Your Lover” before continuing, “Don’t worry about my heartstrings, You know I don’t feel those feelings—I just want to see what tomorrow brings.” Still, Martin has a sensitive side. “Gonna Find It” and “You’re The Love” find her seeking that which is missing. Echoes of Stax and long-forgotten southern soul sides abound.

With Suzie Vinnick as her writing partner, Martin goes looking for “Good Trouble,” perhaps the album’s most rock ‘n’ roll track. The sing-a-long chorus, “You’re never too young, you’re never too old, to find yourself good trouble; you must find a way, to get in the way, and find yourself good trouble,” is immediately appealing, and Steve Marriner’s organ break raise the stakes a bit higher. Equally engaging, “This Night Is Mine”—one of several songs co-written with guitarist Curtis Chaffey—is loaded with vocal and instrumental hooks, another complete band performance.

Run To Me is an incredible album. Expertly produced by bassist Darcy Yates, and with a running time is 35 minutes, Run To Me is a concise serving of electrifying soul, blues, and roots music.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Drop me a note.

Canadian Blues- three reviews   2 comments

Over the last eight weeks, more than a dozen blues albums have made their way through the system to land in the wee metal box down the road.

Lots of electric blues, some with a Chicago feel, others more southern, many guitar-based and a couple pianocentric albums, quite a few featuring female frontpersons, even more with too many wankering guitar solos, a small number featuring fusion attempts, and one more with a ‘trad.’ acoustic blues foundation. All have been listened to, several only once because that is all they seemed to deserve (sorry!) while others have created my personal soundtrack over the past several weeks.

I enjoy blues music, although not as much as some other forms of roots music, but I don’t actively seek it out on a day-to-day basis. I have favourite contemporary artists—Rory Block, Eric Bibb, Paul Reddick, Sue Foley, Watermelon Slim, Colin James, Crystal Shawanda, Maria Muldaur, to name a few—and the likes of John Lee Hooker, Lead Belly, and Alberta Hunter have been a part of my listening since I was a teenager: I recall one summer (I think— after all, when else would I be watching it?) morning becoming transfixed by Alberta Hunter on Good Morning America. Still, it would take a lot to get me off the couch to attend a blues performance.

Here are my thoughts on three really strong blues albums that have recently come my way.

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Suzie Vinnick Shake The Love Around SuzieVinnick.com

From Western Canada, Suzie Vinnick is well-familiar to Alberta blues listeners. Now based in the Niagara area of Ontario, Vinnick continues to make her way to the prairies almost annually. Early in the album opening “Happy As Hell,” Vinnick sings,  “I may complain but I know, I am living a charmed life…I got no reason to ever bitch and moan, but I do sometimes…” It appears life is agreeing with the vibrant singer, songwriter, and bandleader, because across the album’s dozen tracks the positive receives greater emphasis than its opposite.

Blessed with a gorgeous voice, throughout Shake The Love Around Vinnick leads her band through terrific songs filled with rich lyrical insights, smooth arrangements, and stunning and near-overwhelming performances. One example would be “Golden Rule” (“It costs nothing to be kind,” she sings) featuring an almost Laurel Canyon vibe with Vinnick handling all guitars—acoustic, electric, bass, and lap steel—to excellent effect. Truly an indie artist, Vinnick has again released an album without label support, produced herself (with Mark Lalama), and done the bulk of the instrumental heavy lifting.

Unlike the previous favourite Me ‘n’ Mabel, the album that made me a fan, which was largely a solo album, Shake The Love Around is a band album. Still naturally tasteful, this time out the approach is a bit more aggressive (“Watch Me,” and “Lean Into The Light.”) An ideal summer listen, the album is abounding with songs that make this listener think of Bobbie Gentry (all evidence to the contrary, not everything I listen to runs through my Gentry filter) including a sweltering cover of John Fogerty’s “A Hundred and Ten In The Shade” and “Crying A River For You,” featuring Colin Linden; to Linden’s and Vinnick’s collaborative credit, each of their guitar parts are discernible and distinctive.

“Beautiful Little Fool” has a playful vibe and Percy Mayfield’s “Danger Zone” allows Vinnick to carry a song—typically performed with horns and all manner of accompaniment—very ably with just her voice and bass: it may be my favourite performance on the album, and is an ideal selection given the album’s theme of spreading positivity while surrounded by darkness. However, the very next song—”Creaking Pines”—is also a favourite, a wisp of a song equally effective—a little seductive, a lot haunting—bringing to mind the legendary Alberta Hunter.

Shake The Love Around is an excellent blues and roots album from Suzie Vinnick. She never disappoints.

Angel

Angel Forrest Electric Love AngelForrest.ca

If Suzie Vinnick is great—and she is—and well-regarded within the Canadian blues industry—and she is, having been crowned as Female Vocalist of the Year six times by the Maple Blues Awards—Angel Forrest is held in similar high esteem.

Forrest is the reigning and five time Maple Blues Female Vocalist of the Year, and on this double live set, she shows why. The Quebec veteran focuses on vocals, and does with considerable gravelly panache, while leading her four-piece band through a set of standards and I presume, originals—at least songs I am not familiar with (songwriting credits must always be provided within an album package)—from a single concert captured last October in St-Hyacinthe, Quebec.

The show opening “All The Way” (a co-write with guitarist Denis Coulombe, I believe) sets the stage for almost an hour and a half of blues-rock. Forrest is at her strongest belting out her own songs including “Hold On Tight, Mr. I’m Alright” “Spoil Me Up,” and “Mother Tongue Blues.” Not much is held back—or left to interpretation—on the brassy “Move On.”

Realizing she has long sung Janis Joplin songs, I find her versions of “Piece Of My Heart” and “Me and Bobby McGee” a little too on the nose—imitation rather than inspiration—although I am confident there are others who will strongly disagree, and I appreciate the guitar work: it isn’t that I didn’t like Forrest’s versions, it is just I feel I have heard these vocal approaches often enough. Her take of “Turtle Blues” is more impressive, and stronger still are her takes of “House of the Rising Sun” and the extended, set-closing jam “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean”/”Hound Dog”/”Whole Lotta Love” which are full of energy and passion.

Angel Forrest has released a number of albums—and I believe this is her third live release—but this is the first to come to my attention: I’ll be keeping my ears open for more. I’m intrigued.

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Sugar Brown It’s A Blues World: Calling All Blues SugarBrownMusic.com

Speaking of intrigued.

When was the last time a Ph. D. released a blues album? Not intriguing enough? Okay, when was the last time a University of Toronto associate professor of East Asian Studies, born in Bowling Green, Ohio into a Japanese-Korean family released a blues album?

That’s what I thought.

Proving that the blues is a force of nurture as much as nature, Sugar Brown has unleashed a powerful blues missive upon an unsuspecting populace.

Man, Sugar Brown plays my kind of blues. Influenced by the Chicago blues, a sound well familiar to Ken Kawashima as that is where he got his start blowing harp in blues bands. Now fronting a band on both guitar and harmonica, Sugar Brown has created thirteen new songs—some of them based around and reinventing familiar songs of various extract—that kept this listener rapt for the entirety of their 48-minute run. Some of his lyrics are hopeful, some are rather darka balance I can certainly appreciate.

Fronting the likes of Michelle Josef (mostly) and Chuck Bucket (three tracks) (drums), Russ Boswell (basses), Minnie Heart and Nichol Robertson (various string instruments), and Julian Fauth (piano and organ), Sugar Brown has captured his blues in a warm and inviting atmosphere utilizing some vintage equipment and a knack for a variety of blues structures. As stated in the accompanying press material, here Brown “mines the various strata of the blues genre.” Taking full advantage of the broad blues palate, no two songs sound too much alike even as they may explore a common thematic spectrum.

Highlights include the finger-picking grounded “Hard to Love” and “Lousy Dine,” a song built around the adroit lyric “everybody’s scrambling for the same lousy dime.” “It’s A Blues World” is a song for the times, an old-timey sounding lamentation with a bit of “The House of the Rising Sun” in its foundation.

For an album rich in reflection, Sugar Brown doesn’t let the listener soak in misery for too long. Numbers including “Dew On The Grass,” “Out Of The Frying Pan”, and “Those Things You Said” are lighter and livelier. “Sure As The Stars” is a sassy, kiss-off piece, while “Tide Blues” reminds me of something Doc Watson might have played around with on the porch with Merle or grandson Richard. By the time we reach the closing “Brothers,” we have been fully immersed in a fully satisfying blues session.

From its striking, etched cover art through to the clarity of the recording itself and the strength of the songs, Sugar Brown has created a memorable album. When he wants to, he puts a fine growl in his voice, while elsewhere his approach is pure, natural, and clear (“Love Me Twice.”)

It’s A Blues World: Calling All Blues is my introduction to Sugar Brown. I’ll be hearing more.

 

 

Sue Foley- The Ice Queen review   2 comments

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Sue Foley The Ice Queen Stony Plain Records SueFoley.com

When one considers contemporary blues guitarists, naturally several come to mind, and being a bit northern-centric, Sue Foley immediately jumps to the fore. That paisley-bejeweled pink Telecaster wouldn’t be nearly as impressive in lesser hands, and over the course of nearly three decades as a touring bandleader, the Ottawa-native has certainly established a niche all her own.

Finger-picking his Foley’s forte, and the title track is an ideal example of her inimitable style; clocking in at six-plus minutes, the playful and self-deprecating number provides the album with a rock-solid foundation. But, as she has with various international sounds over the years, Foley also extends herself acoustically late in the set when she plays “The Dance,” this time utilizing the flamenco style.

As significant as the guitar playing is throughout the album—from Foley, of course, but also her guests including Charlie Sexton, Billy Gibbons, Jimmie Vaughan, to name the three most familiar—what is even more impressive is the depth she goes to give voice to these songs.

She gets low and bluesy a la Lucinda singing the many and diverse qualities of cruel ol’ “81” (“She’s a two-headed snake, and she winds her tail, from the mighty Appalachians to the gates of Hell”) while roaring above a lively ruckus on “Run,” a free-spirited jam featuring thick bass-notes from Austin’s Johnny Bradley and drumming from George Rains from Vaughan’s Tilt a Whirl band. This trio propels a pair of additional numbers—with help from others—Bessie Smith’s “Send Me To the ‘Lectric Chair” and “If I Have Forsaken You.”

Throughout, Foley’s singing is engaged as she brilliantly slips from one style to the next, each authentic within her blues experience. Foley’s haunting acoustic country-blues treatment of her own “Death of A Dream” is quite simply stunning, while  a lively (and apparently near-elusive) “Cannonball Blues” serves as an ideal conclusion to a collection set in tradition.

Featuring a bevy of Texas heat, The Ice Queen allows several of Foley’s musical friends an opportunity to make significant appearances. Charlie Sexton’s initial contributions—on the opening “Come To Me” and its follow-up “81”—are impressive, and set the theme for the album with masters collaborating in expected ways to yield extraordinary results. I’ve never been a particular fan of Vaughan’s, but he and Foley slip into “The Lucky Ones” with companionable ease. Producer Mike Flanigin’s Hammond B3 punctuates several songs, most effectively on the ramblin’ “Gaslight,” while Billy Gibbons gets fair gritty with Foley on “Fool’s Gold,” another number on which Flanigin is prominently featured.

The Ice Queen is Sue Foley’s first album in six years, and a more welcome, forceful, and confident return couldn’t be imagined. I imagine it is everything fans have been waiting for, and more. Now, to finesse an early-April road trip to Red Deer…

 

 

Emily Burgess- Are We In Love? review   Leave a comment

Emily

Emily Burgess Are We In Love? www.EmilyBurgessMusic.com

I don’t get too excited about too many things these days. Thank goodness I still get a bit of a jump when I hear fresh, exciting music: the day that stops happening it the day I’ll be ready to pack it all in.

Still, I don’t get worked up by a lot of the music being produced by younger musicians and singers. Give me a new album by Rodney Crowell, The Gibson Brothers, or David and Gillian over something by Shakey Graves, Ten Strings and a Goat Skin, or Molly Tuttle most any day and I’ll be more than content.

It isn’t that folks twenty and thirty years my junior have nothing to contribute—far from it, they keep the roots growing—I am just not into what many of them are doing. And that is fine, I suppose, as long as I recognize that while their music may not necessarily fully connect with me, it does impact others in the same way Guy Clark, Emmylou Harris, Wilma Burgess, and Steve Forbert once—long agoknocked me back on my arse.

Ahh, but there is always an exception. Emily Burgess (I guess Wilma Burgess didn’t come to mind a sentence ago serendipitously) is the latest ‘youngster’ to capture my ears.

Not sure when my recent fascination with soulful female vocalists began, but I know Bobbie Gentry laid a solid foundation over the past twenty years. Discovering her catalogue beyond “Ode to Billie Joe” did more than a little to push me in this direction. I know I fell hard for the singing of Linda Clifford, Gladys Knight, Marlena Shaw, Candi Staton, and Dorothy Moore (and a hundred and fifty-six others) when I encountered them on soundtracks, compilations, and radio, and became enamoured with the thrill of discovering even more when I started digging. Over time, Amy Black came to my attention, and a couple years ago I fell hard for Edmonton’s Ann Vriend’s recent albums. Lately, Erin Costelo and Crystal Shawanda have came onto my radar. Now, Emily Burgess.

Out of Ontario, Emily Burgess is a guitar-wielding firebrand who has played with various outfits, most recently The Weber Brothers. From what I can gather browsing the links, many of her previous appearances feature harder blues stylings. Not so Are We In Love? And these softer, soulful songs are right up my alley, and I would suggest ideally suit Burgess.

Backed by The Weber Brothers Band, Burgess strolls down the soulful side of the street on this debut set of ten songs. With the recording coming in at just over 30 minutes, no time is wasted, no filler dropped in. “Til I Get To Call You My Only” comes with a confident strut to kick-off the album, each and every performance is concise, and the album’s brevity magnifies the intensity of the music.

Burgess and Sam Weber (no individual credits are provided) drop in tasteful guitar fills throughout the set (“I Want To Make You Mine,” for example) and the rhythm section of Marcus Browne (drums) and Ryan Weber (bass) keep the backbeat deep. Ryan “Rico” Browne contributes a bevy of keys. With everyone focused on maintaining a discerning groove, the album maintains cohesion that never blurs into monotony.

Burgess’s softer side comes through on “Ain’t That A Woman?” and the title track, but these songs avoid mushy sentimentality. “Is this a phantom I’m chasing,” she sings on “Are We In Love?” and the answer is most obviously, No. Emily Burgess knows what she is going after, revealing no hesitation. “All I Wanna Do Is Love You” rocks like a Danko Jones’ outtake, and “Stand Up For Your Love” is just a terrific song.

Still, despite all of these highlights, the late set “Arrested” may just be the strongest performance on Are We In Love? Embracing shifting tempos, Burgess sings of falling under a spell, “arrested by the love of a man,” over a percolating and percussive rhythm with a signature hook that is significantly catchy.

Released late last year, Emily Burgess’s Are We In Love? is a captivating album, one that will get your soulful, bottom-end moving.

 

Posted 2018 February 4 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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Crystal Shawanda- Voodoo Woman review   2 comments

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Crystal Shawanda Voodoo Woman New Sun Records/CrystalShawanda.co

Since her debut on both the Canadian and American country charts, it has been obvious that Crystal Shawanda could sing.

Recording largely formulistic, and at times bombastic, country-pop, Shawanda found limited success as a mainstream country singer, touring in support of Brad Paisley across Canada, for example, and ‘almost’ hitting the Country Top Twenty a decade ago with the rather ‘over the top’ emotionally-rife “You Can Let Go.” Still, Dawn of a New Day showed promise and—looking back—“My Roots Are Showing” hinted at the direction Shawanda would eventually follow.

Going the route of independence has proven artistically significant for Shawanda, who released a more personal set of music with Just Like You, but the album’s singles didn’t get significant traction at country radio. The album did garner Shawanda a well-deserved Juno Award as Best Aboriginal Album in 2013.

More recently, she has redefined herself as a blues-rock singer, and this seems to be the genre where she is most comfortable. The Whole World’s Got the Blues was a more than impressive collection of blues standards and original material, including the steaming, self-penned title track and “I’m Not Your Baby.” Revealing herself as an honest blues belter, Shawanda also remained true to her roots. Included on the album was the evocative and powerful rocker “Pray Sister Pray” as a call-to-action for the Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women of Canada.

Fish Out of Water continued Shawanda’s foray into southern blues sounds, with both title track and “When You Rise” showcasing her ability to get to the gritty roots of the music while “Laid Back” showed a softer, more satisfied and companionable side.

Voodoo Woman was released late in 2017, but is only now hitting radio. It is a one hell of a blues album, loaded with memorable vocal performances.

Recording a set of covers for the first time, Shawanda revisits the music that inspired her as a child growing up on Manitoulin Island. Influenced by her brother’s listening habits, the blues spoke to Shawanda—as they do to many of us—as unvarnished reflections of troubled lives.

Somewhat playfully, a hybrid of “Wang Dang Doodle” and “Smokestack Lightning” opens the album, but Shawanda hits her mark from the start. “I’ll Always Love You” previously appeared on The Whole World’s Got the Blues, and in this new rendition is as powerful as a heartfelt, blues ballad can be. Janis Joplin’s, via Big Mama Thornton, “Ball and Chain” is given a fiery arrangement, with a much appreciated extended saxophone break.

Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind”—known to many as the melody for Chris Stapleton’s version of “Tennessee Whiskey”—is an undisputed showstopper, but so are most of these familiar numbers. Co-producer (with Shawanda) Dewayne Stobel, one believes, provides the lead guitar licks, and these are consistently impressive across the album, but maybe just a little more so on the rump-twitchin’ “Trouble” and closing “Blue Train/Smokestack Lightning Revisited.”

Personally, Shawanda’s version of “Misty Blue” is stellar. Written as a country song and a hit for both Wilma Burgess and Eddy Arnold (and later, again for Billie Jo Spears), Dorothy Moore’s 1976 version of the song was likely the first soul/R&B song I fell in love with: I’m discriminating in what I will accept when a singer comes back to this beautifully crafted song. Shawanda further demonstrates her vocal range on this number, pulling back the growl and grit to provide the song with the sensitivity and ‘wanting’ required. Truly masterful.

Voodoo Woman reveals Crystal Shawanda as a blues performer of significance. The musicianship is excellent, the production crisp. And, most importantly, Crystal Shawanda can sing. Give her another listen: you will be missing something important if you don’t.