Crystal Shawanda, a 27-year-old singer-songwriter from Ontario, Canada has established herself as a promising new voice with her first album Dawn of a New Day, a step in the right direction as she challenges for her own place in today’s country music. The album is diverse in its sounds and themes, and echoes her experience as a young woman born on an Indian reservation and trying to make a name and gain fame in Nashville. For the most part, she thrives in this collection of songs.
The common thread throughout the album is an appreciation of the past and a certain strength of character through adversity, and Shawanda’s voice ranges from sassy and spirited to wonderfully delicate. The first single, “You Can Let Go,” is a story song that, although predictable in terms of the storyline, is rich with emotion and is an effective introduction of Shawanda, formerly a featured singer at Nashville’s hallowed honky tonk, Tootsie’s. The depth of a father-daughter relationship is married with the lessons learned in letting go. She sells it, but this paint-by-numbers ballad only hints at her potential, as does “What Do I Have to Do?,” another power ballad that tries a little too hard to make its point.
Shawanda settles into this rut at times, tempering some of the originality that is her calling card. She both succeeds (“Tender Side”) and stumbles (“Try”) in showing her strength in the face of vulnerability. Shawanda is much more powerful when tackling stronger, more attitude-driven material, in the form of both soulful ballads and uptempo tunes. The high points are the feisty numbers that dot the album, from the lustful “I Need a Man” to the engaging “Evolution,” an autobiographical piece that rips and roars with grace and grit. Two other stellar tracks are “My Roots are Showing” and the title track, empowering songs with impressive vocal power by the newcomer.
Shawanda’s love for classic country music is apparent with her avowed adoration to Loretta Lynn, her namechecking of Patsy Cline, and her inclusion of the Hank Williams standard, “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” She covers the classic tune admirably, and would do well to continue the tradition of these legends, artists who followed their muse without much consideration for Nashville rules. Although Dawn of a New Day sometimes makes those commercial concessions, it is a satisfying piece of work that will likely be the first of many successes for the talented Shawanda.