Review – Crystal Shawanda

Album: Fish Out of Water
Release Date: October 21, 2016
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Genre: Country/Blues

Crystal Shawanda is one of Canada’s most unique and recognizable voices in music. You know the second her voice comes across your radio. From her roots planted on the Wikwemikong reserve in Ontario to the great musical city of Nashville, Shawanda has taken her music all across North America and even graced the stage of the Grand Ole Opry with her charm and beauty. Whether it’s performing “Does He Love You” with Reba McEntire or singing her record breaking hit “You Can Let Go,” Shawanda pours nothing more than her heart and soul into each individual note. Shawanda has released her fourth studio album Fish Out of Water, and truer words cannot be spoken about her music and artistic stylings. Shawanda is honest, raw, and real on Fish Out of Water and you can’t help but feel every single ounce of emotion throughout each track.

If you were introduced to Shawanda’s music through her country albums Dawn of a New Day and Just Like You, or her more recent release The Whole World’s Got the Blues which took Shawanda into a new musical direction then Fish Out of Water is the album for you. Shawanda has found her voice and comfort level by balancing both her love and admiration for everything that is country and the deep affection she has for everything blues. If you have ever caught Shawanda perform live, then you know she loves to sing everything from the classic songs of “Me and Bobby McGee” to “Misty Blue.”Fish Out of Water serves you with the best of both worlds. You have your dose of “classic country Shawanda” coupled with her down right mind blowing vocals, and her influences of blues and soul.

The concept for Fish Out of Water came from a very real place Shawanda explains “I always felt like a bit of an outsider on the country music scene and some people in the blues community would tell me I didn’t sound like “real” blues. So I was discouraged and I didn’t know what to do or what direction to go, so I called my mom and cried my eyes out. I told her I still felt like I didn’t fit in anywhere personally or musically and sometimes I feel like a fish out of water trying to fly. And she said, “Maybe that’s what you are. Just write about it, embrace it and you will find other people who feel the same way you do.” So “Fish Out of Water” was the first song we wrote and it became the inspiration and whole theme for the album. It’s a universal message to not be afraid of who you are, where you come from and where you are going. And that it’s okay to not fit in sometimes.”

With words of wisdom and inspiration from her mother, Shawanda sat down with her talented husband Dewayne Strobel, and together the two created the title track “Fish Out of Water.” You can’t help but instantly connect to the lyrics. Right from the opening line “I’m like a fish out of water, trying to learn how to fly” you know there has been some point in your life that you have felt or lived those exact words. The song continues to connect you with those feelings, but encourages you to carry on “I’m gonna rise/Lord let me fly.”

“Skin Deep” touches on the social issues that we face today. One of my favorite tracks on Fish Out of Water. Knowing that in 2016 people are still judged by something as simple as the color of their skin, “Skin Deep” reminds us that “We all need to be careful how we treat one another.” Knowing firsthand how hard it can be to face racism, “Skin Deep” was pitched after Shawanda started opening up about her own troubles she has faced being of First Nations descent. “I was a little hesitant to record “Skin Deep” at first because I knew it was going to force me to be open and to talk about and deal with what I went through. I realized it was a good thing. It’s good medicine to talk about what has hurt us, so that’s what I am doing.”

Shawanda wrote “Trouble” with Vanyah. “Trouble” is high energy and fun. With its quick tempo and Shawanda’s signature voice, it is one of the more carefree tunes on Fish Out of Water. It is a blast to crank up loud and groove around to. You know that “Trouble” is about a boy you know you should stay away from. “T R O yeah you know what I mean.”

“When You Rise” is one of Shawanda’s more bluesy performances on this album. I loved her vocals throughout this track. “When You Rise” is a great love song, and really I am a sucker for a great love song. My favorite line “When you rise, baby I shine” just gives me goosebumps when Shawanda belts out those long notes.

The debut single from Fish Out of Water was the southern inspired tune “Laid Back.” Written in 1973 by Sonny Tackett, it wasn’t until 1996 when he first recorded the song for the world to hear. Shawanda takes on this timeless sounding song with comfort and ease. “Laid Back” is a perfect showcase of Shawanda’s country comforts and blues influences. “Since I was a kid I have been focused on my music career and vowed I would never get married. I was always on the move with somewhere to go, and things to do and felt that a relationship would slow me down. And then I met Dewayne. We fell in love and we got married. So this song is about finding that somebody who makes that restlessness go away.” says Shawanda.

“Fire” is another great collaboration between Shawanda and her husband Strobel. The two definitely have a great musical dynamic on stage, in the studio, and when it comes to writing the duo complement each other by creating great music. “Fire” puts feelings to lyrics. Expressing those heated feelings you can have for someone you’re passionate about or deep in love with. “You make me wanna play with fire.” Something we all know we shouldn’t do, but from time to time can’t help but play with.

“On a Beach Somewhere” is such another one of my favorites on this album. I absolutely love the lyrics. Despite being a song about the passing of a loved one, it helps bring comfort by picturing them “on a beach somewhere.” Shawanda cuts through this song with true emotion. Penned by Greg Humphrey and Warren Haynes, Humphrey had sent the song to Shawanda shortly before he had passed away. Shawanda met Humphrey back when she was 12 and first performed down in Nashville. Later when she returned to Nashville at 16, Humphrey helped Shawanda get her first job at Tootsies World Famous Orchid Lounge. Humphrey later introduced Shawanda to her now husband Strobel. Needless to say you can tell that the two were great friends and very close. Fish Out of Water is appropriately dedicated to the memory of Greg Humphrey for good reason. You can hear both the heartbreak and pain, and the comfort in Shawanda’s voice as she performs this beautiful ballad.

Shawanda collaborated with Micki Free on “Get it On/Come and Get Your Love.” The track picks up the beat and gets you grooving. Free and Shawanda are great together. A mash up of original lyrics and Lolly Vegas’ “Come and Get Your Love” this is another one of the albums more fun tunes and one you will want to blast through your speakers.

The album closes out with “Ancestor.” Written by Christina Maria Rieder, Shawanda takes “Ancestor” and turns it into a completely haunting performance. Shawanda has always paid tribute to her heritage and family. “Ancestor” touches on the importance of passing down wisdom, knowledge, and life experience from one generation to another.

I can never articulate how much I enjoy listening to Shawanda’s vocals. Her abilities to deliver emotion on the stage and in the studio are what keep her fans buying her albums. Shawanda creates music for the soul purpose that she lives and breathes it. If you ever catch Shawanda on stage, you know she is a dedicated and giving performer.

Shawanda has found a great balance and pushed the limits of what a “blues” singer or a “country” singer can do these days. Shawanda does not need to define herself by anything other than being an artist. You can tell her mind is constantly creating and cultivating music, why should we limit someone’s creative mind by calling them anything other than an artist? Blues, or country I’ll take Shawanda performing whatever she feels, any day. Fish Out of Water is by far the best work from Shawanda. It showcases her incredible vocal skills, her growth, and her depth as an artist. I strongly encourage you to check out this album for yourself. Grab a copy currently in stores and online at most major music retailers.

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