Crystal Shawanda – Voodoo Woman
True North Records – 2018
10 tracks; 42 minutes
Crystal Shawanda grew up in Ontario but since the age of 13 has been in and around the Nashville music scene. As a Native American she found herself confronting prejudice when she started out in country music but persevered and forged a singing career, initially in country before she discovered her blues roots. Voodoo Woman is her third blues album and combines three originals with seven covers. The album was produced by Crystal and her husband Dewayne Strobel who also plays guitar throughout. Joining the couple in the Nashville studio were Dave Roe and Michael Dearing on bass, Louis Winfield and Darren James on bass, Peter Keys on B3, Stephen Hanner on harmonica, Dana Robbins on sax and Vickie Hampton and Quisha Wint on harmony vocals.
Crystal has a strong voice with plenty of grit, bringing to mind blues belters like Koko Taylor, even Janis Joplin. Perhaps looking to pay homage to her influences the album opens with five songs which are all, in this reviewer’s mind, too frequently covered. The title track and “Wang Dang Doodle” are both from Koko’s repertoire, “Hound Dog” and “Ball And Chain” from Big Mama Thornton (or Janis in the latter case) and “I’d Rather Go Blind” from Etta James – all big shoes to fill. How does Crystal compare? Well, she does OK but the originals will always take some beating though Dana Robbins’ sax on “Ball And Chain” is excellent. Perhaps because it is less often heard, the cover of Dorothy Moore’s “Misty Blue” fares better with a luscious sax intro and a passionate vocal performance from Crystal. Larry Grisham and Tommy Stilwell (The Beat Daddys) provide the ballad “I’ll Always Love You” and it works well for Crystal who sings this one with conviction but in a less full-throated style, Dewayne contributing a nicely poised solo.
The originals include the very repetitive “Trouble”, “Cry Out For More” which is a blues grinder with slide, harp and piano to the fore and “Bluetrain” which is something of a departure with an ominous feel and lyrical references to hellhounds and crossroads – classic blues material and the pick of the originals.
Fans of strong voiced singers should find much to enjoy in Crystal’s performances here but it would be good to hear more original material and fewer over-familiar covers next time round.