Pianist and singer Davell Crawford proudly hails from New Orleans, Louisiana, a hotspot of both culture and music. The pride that Crawford possesses for his hometown shines radiantly throughout his music, of which preserving the traditional facets of the New Orleans pianist style is a vital, ‘must-meet’ benchmark. Over the course of his 2013 album, My Gift to You, Crawford enlightens his audience and hometown through his prodigious, breathtaking musical talents. Consistent and alluring from top to finish, My Gift to You is a fine effort straddling numerous musical styles including R&B, funk, jazz and blues. There is a reason he’s been penned as ‘the piano prince of New Orleans’.
“Creole Man” sets the tone, wasting no time to establish hometown pride. Exceptionally produced featuring an array of sounds including strings, horns, and pummeling percussion, Crawford delivers soulful vocals and bluesy piano lines as he proclaims “I am the Creole man / I come from foreign lands to spread the news.” After knocking it out of the park, Crawford loses no steam on “River/White Socks & Drawers”, a cut showing off the chilled out, relaxed vibe of his vocal style. By the end, the cut becomes infused with a ruckus gospel-blues sound, characteristic of the Nawlins’ culture. On a third straight winner in “Junco Partner Cud’in Joe”, Crawford showcases a sick falsetto, which exudes a big personality in itself. The six-minute duration seems secondary and inconsequential.
Billy Joel cover “The River of Dreams” delivers a roots appeal, given the use of acoustic guitar and bluesy chordal piano passages. Supporting vocals towards the end firmly add the gospel idiom to the mix. “Fire and Rain”, another triumph, shows restraint like James Taylor’s original, but that same restraint packs an emotional punch. Featuring raspy vocals from Crawford, a lovely, pure trumpet solo (Nicholas Payton), and altered harmonies indigenous to jazz (courtesy of piano), “Fire and Rain” is outstanding. “Southern Nights/Many Rivers to Cross” follows-up, but not as expected. It is a solo piano cut, bringing Crawford’s pianistic skills to the forefront. The magnificent “Don’t Ever Be Blue” (featuring Steve Riley) once more contrasts, this time making use of fiddles and a country-soul/ blues-gospel amalgam. Relaxed in tempo and chilled-up in southern vibe, “Don’t Ever Be Blue” single-handedly delivers a smile to the listener’s face.
“Louisiana Sunday Afternoon”, featuring flautist Bobbi Humphrey, receives a warm southern treatment, while the fiestiness of “Southern Girl” is nothing short of irresistible. If a Duke Ellington “Caravan”-like groove wasn’t enough to describe the southern girl, Crawford ensures that the funk of “Southern Woman (Ain’t Nothin’ Like A)” serves as musical embodiment of the real thing. Authenticity is apparent on “Stranger in My Own Home”, in which strings add a level of emotion and drama to Crawford’s stunning vocals. “Until I See You in a While” further confirms Crawford’s high musical IQ, while “Going Back to Louisiana” sassily represents the musical style of New Orleans with the help of Dr. John and the Davell Crawford Singers. The highlighting portion is the gospel vamping towards the close. Crawford is potent with soul on the reverent “Can’t Find My Way Home”, but it is the concluding “Ode to Louisiana” where he delivers his most impassioned vocal performance of the entire album.
All in all, My Gift to You could have also been titled My Gift to New Orleans. The dedication and the devotion that Crawford has for home is admirable and quite relatable. The motto “there’s no place like home” rings true on one of the year’s more rich, musical gifts. Crawford may not reinvent anything, but he introduces his home and local culture to the entire world brilliantly if nothing more.
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// Notes from the Road
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