Davell Crawford is a man full of gratitude. Not for the little things, though. Instead, Crawford approaches his life and career with immense, sincere gratitude to his fans and those who have supported him, especially during trying times following Hurricane Katrina.
His most recent CD, “My Gift to You,” is dedicated to his fans and includes his own original homage to his home state of Louisiana.
To understand Crawford is to also understand post-Katrina New Orleans. Although the storm was eight years ago, its effects are still pronounced in a community that epitomizes the word communal.
Like everyone in the region, the musicians of New Orleans were heavily impacted by the storm. While most of us saw the images of the physical destruction of the city, the destruction of the communal nature of the city was in many ways more profound. In the span of one storm, 250 years of cultural and familial structures that formed the roots of the city were suddenly uprooted and in many cases destroyed altogether.
It is this destruction of ties and community that leaves Crawford and so many others with a sense of being lost in the only city they have ever called home. Many musicians have addressed Katrina head-on in their work since the storm. Some of this work has expressed the anger and frustration to what was a monumental disaster on any scale.
Crawford takes a different approach with this album, one centered in gratitude and humility. Who else would end their liner notes with, “Thanks to everyone and a special thanks to everyone else?”
The music is a magical journey through Louisiana, New Orleans, some of the top artists in the city and Crawford’s inner struggles since Katrina.
Some of the region’s top musicians appear on the album, including Dr. John, Donald Harrison, Big Freedia, Nicholas Payton and Steve Riley. This fusion of masterful talent is most pronounced on the second track of the album, a combination of “River” (written by Crawford’s Godmother Roberta Flack) and “White Socks & Drawers” (written by Crawford himself).
In the song, Crawford’s arrangement skillfully fuses his sweet, soulful vocals with an underlying track that is every bit as funky as it is laid back. The vocals of Dr. John in the song’s B-part give it a trance-like, mystical feel before the song turns into a nifty jam session toward the end. You can almost close your eyes and feel the flow of the Mighty Mississippi.
Crawford was touched by the film “Ray,” which chronicles the life of the legendary Ray Charles. “Georgia On My Mind” had always been a staple of Crawford’s, but took on special significance after he saw the film in 2005.
It is no surprise, then, that the album’s final song, “Ode To Louisiana,” bears some similarity to “Georgia.” “Ode” was written as a love song to his home state. The second verse ends with, “I’ll travel the whole wide world over/and sing of your beauty and love.”
“Ode” shows that, while the places we cherish may change, our love for them remains the same. As the saying goes, “Home is where the heart is.”
Crawford goes one step beyond this, though. For he has truly given his heart to the sate he so dearly loves.
‘My Gift to You’ is an incredibly strong album, especially for an artist who has been away from recording for the last 14 years. Just how strong remains to be seen. It is on the first ballot for the 2014 Grammys. I’m not a Grammy voter, but if I was I would be voting for this album.
NOTE: If you enjoyed this review, please be sure to listen to my interview with Crawford on Soul of New Orleans.