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Crystal Shawanda

Dawn of a New Day – 2008 (RCA)

Reviewed by Jeff Lincoln

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CDs by Crystal Shawanda

Meet Crystal Shawanda - a native from the Ojibwa tribe who grew up on an Ontario reservation, and a successful graduate of television's starmarking machine. She was featured on a CMT reality mini-series (Crystal: Living the Dream) which followed her "career" before this, her first CD.

The first thing to know is that there's a quality to Shawanda's voice - it's all gravel and guts, and it sounds like it's logged a lot of miles. The rasp isn't just an effect, say in the way that Tanya Tucker could use hers like a guitar pedal. This is a Texas-sized hole right in the middle of nearly every note, that you'll either find brimming with emotion or in need of throat lozenge.

Highlights are the guard-down admission of Tender Sideand a revelation of a classic makeover (Your Cheatin' Heart). Shawanda aims to please - most arrangements ride right down the middle of the pop/country road - but therein enters a problem. The weeper debut single You Can Let Gocracked, then stalled, in the U.S. Top 40 country chart. Maybe the songwriting standard ploy where a phrase changes meaning over time (think Don't Take the Girl) is wearing thin. Or perhaps the country audience, which has a bloodhound's nose for authenticity, smells something slightly off. By the time Shawanda sends the shout-outs to Patsy Cline, and worries about going gray (My Roots Are Showing), the feeling doesn't shake that these are the tunes she thinks listeners want. But why pander? This is a still-young woman who grew up a long way from Butcher Holler. She should tell what she's seen instead of playing dress-up in the attic of where others have been. There must be more than a few stories behind that voice.