Crystal Shawanda, winner of the 2021 Blues Album of the Year Award at the Junos is set to knock out local blues fans at The Commercial Hotel’s Blues On Whyte on May 18.
Armed with a siren of a voice, and potent song-writing skills, Shawanda’s recent win at the Junos comes after years of paying her dues, even though she’s been an acclaimed artist for some time.
Her latest album, Church House Blues is a tour de force as this Ontario born, Nashville resident laid down a selection of original tunes that cover a lot of ground under the blues banner. Starting with the fiery delivery of the title track, the album includes the riveting drive of “New Orleans Is Sinking,” and the assertive strains of “Rather Be Alone,” before sliding into to the quiet, contemplative desire and despair that scorches “Evil Memory.”
Blues On Whyte patrons have witnessed some epic performances in the venue through the years, and the booking of this gifted artist is guaranteed to be a “house rockin’ event” that will ring in a great line-up of talent that is slated to grace the Blues On Whyte stage over the summer months.
The material found on Church House Blues finds this exceptional artist fully immersing herself in the blues. While her influences, that include Koko Taylor, Etta James, and the Staple Singers are detectable, it is her unique phrasing, and personal expressions of life’s trials and tribulations that elevate Shawanda into a category that sets her aside from most tunesmiths.
Shawanda has reflected many times when asked about this recording, which was released on the True North label and her answers are always consistent.
“I grew up with blues music and I used to jam with blues musicians when I was still living in Canada,” she recalls.
“It’s funny. After moving to Nashville for the second time in 2000, I was discovered while actually playing the blues —the music made by Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Big Mama Thornton, Janis Joplin. But when I was offered the record deal to make country music, it felt like the opportunity of a lifetime, so I took it and ran.”
All these years later and after some serious success in the country world, on the charts and on stage, there’s not much doubt where Crystal’s passion lies.
“But Church House Blues is the most I’ve ever loved an album out of everything I’ve ever done,” she insists. “This is really who I am. It’s my most definitive album yet. All these songs reflect different aspects of who I am. It’s putting a finger on that definitively. I’m not trying to prove anything. I’m just being me. I’m done with trying to fit in.”
As Ms. Shawanda likes to remind us, “the whole time I was singing Patsy Cline on stage, I was singing Etta James at home.”
The international press has been unanimous is heaping praise on this artist.
“She can belt, croon, cry, and scream , from the fiery delivery of the title track, the riveting drive of “New Orleans Is Sinking,” and the assertive strains of “Rather Be Alone,” to the funky rave-up “Blame It on the Sugar,” the radio-ready hooks in “Hey Love,” and the aching emotions instilled in the deep ballads “When It Comes To Love” and the deep ballad “Bigger Than the Blues.”
As the first Indigenous artist to win the Juno Blues Award, Shawanda reminds her audience that “even as a kid, I recognized that, like, why aren’t we seen everywhere? Why are we invisible?”
The Ojibwe artist has also won numerous other awards and honors including the Juno for Aboriginal Album of the Year in 2013 for her Just Like You recording, and Female Artist of the Year honors at the 2008 Canadian Country Music Awards.
Crystal Shawanda has become a festival favorite and she’ll be criss-crossing the country this summer playing dates at prestigious festivals like the Nanaimo Blues Festival, Ottawa Blues Fest and other festivals stateside.
In the meantime, let’s roll into summer with Crystal Shawanda, one of the nation’s finest blues-roots rock acts in on May 26 at Edmonton’s longest running live blues venue, Blues On Whyte.