The Cinderella story has been recounted so many times over that we have become immune to the magic of the rags to riches tale. But how about the story of Esther story or that of Jeremiah, the biblical sagas of simple people who allowed God to use their talents for the glory of His kingdom. These heroes of old rose to great heights by making the self-effacing decisions to be used by God. Much in the same way, Gospel’s symbolic ‘Cinderella’ in the person of Crystal Aikin humbly declares “I believe that God has put a spiritual anointing on my voice to awaken the spiritually asleep for deliverance and healing.” Thus with her divine calling assured, Crystal is poised to release her anticipated debut album this January 13th.
Two years ago, The 34 year old Songbird of the Northwest could not have dreamed that The Master had such great things in store for her. She herself said this was not a part of her wildest imagination, But when the Tacoma, Washington RN was solicited by a stranger to audition for BET’s Sunday Best, she heeded the call, packed up her awesome talent, winning smile and beautiful personality – and the rest as they say is history. She took home the grand prize, a recording contract withZomba Gospel and a 2008 Camry.
A church girl at heart, Crystal grew up in the pews of the Altheimer Memorial Church of God In Christ in Tacoma singing in the children’s Sunshine Band, which led to directing and of course more singing. These experiences allowed her to spread her wings to a local group called Heaven Sent Us and finally to Soul who at their pinnacle travelled extensively in the 90s and even got the privilege of showcasing at the GMWA.
All that was only the beginning, the molding process that would bring the humble songstress before a television audience of millions, not to mention the adulation ofTina & Erica Campbell and Bebe Winans, who could only gape speechless at her after her flawless rendition of Bette Midler’s Hero. She even brought Kirk Franklin to tears with the raw evocative emotion induced whenever she ministered in song.
No talent was spared in undergirding the vocal talents of Miss Crystal Aikin as a bevy of heavyweight producers were solicited to produce this 10-song hymnal. Hailing from within and without the traditional “churched” genre one can find the writing wares of PAJAM, Kirk Franklin, Asaph Ward and Gerald Haddon.
Asaph Ward’s I Desire More is a perfect commencement to the album, as it portrays the prayer of a servant asking for God’s presence and anointing. Here Crystal’s voice shows the jazzy glimpse of the inimitable Kim Burrell and the influences of a young Yolanda Adams as her voice rises octave after flawless octave over the prayerful words: Not my will but your will / Less of me and more of you / I can’t sing right until you come Lord / Let your presence fall on me.
Don’t let the churchy music fool you. This is by no means a traditional gospel album, although songs like Gerald Haddon’s Even Me Lord lend a definitively familiar gospel flair to the project. The tears welled up in my eyes as the magnitude of God’s grace is revealed once more in the words of this simple song, made even more poignant by the artful musicality of the Nashville String Machine backing the songstress’ avowal. And then there is the duet with CCM princess (and fellow Washingtonian) Natalie Grant in a remake of her hit worship anthem Breathe On Me.
Since Washington State is more renowned for its rock legends than its Gospel,Crystal felt at liberty to explore various styles. In her own words, this album is indeed “a potpourri of musical sounds”. From the urban musical jungle, we find Dre & Vidal who have penned songs for such familiar figures as Usher and Alicia Keys writing two soul inspired songs, Lord You Reign Forever and Turn To Him. These songs translate into candid conversations between the saved and the Savior without the undue weight of King James pronouns.
When asked to pick her favorites from this project, Crystal showed her tastes to be predictably eclectic. The rock/CCM inspirational anthem The Clouds produced byDerek Clark made her short list for its uplifting lyrical content. “…it’s an encouraging song for anyone who feels down, ashamed, unworthy and hopeless. The song talks about how the clouds have rolled away and your sins have been erased. So say goodbye to yesterday. Say good-bye to days of gray!”
Another one of her picks is He’s So Worthy, a “certifiable Gospel joint” song that utilizes Cystal’s powerful vocals. Her final choice, PAJAM’s uncharacteristically pensive What If… (He Said No), also resonated with me. This powerful ballad innocently asks what would happen to us if God reneged on his merciful nature.
What if He said, “No”
My life wouldn’t have a chance
What if He said, “No”
And took away His hand
What if He said, “No” to healings
(“No”) and blessings
(“No”) and miracles
So I’m grateful (that) He didn’t say, “No”
My standout favorite on this album is A Song About Jesus by Kirk Franklin simply because this is, unmistakable, bona fide K-Franklin infused lyrics at its best. It comes off as heartfelt poetry given to the songstress to caress with her eager vocals as simple musicality envelops the poetry like silk drapery over a Mediterranean sunset. The way she breathes That’s what I need… A song about Jesus leads one to understand that her soul is replete at the mere mention of His Name.
With a voice that emotes as it evokes, Crystal Aikin is fulfilling that which was prophesied on her before the world…that she is anointed. What this album brings is a lyrical richness that forces the audience to listen to love letters written by some of the greatest scribes and sung by an earthly servant shyly but determinedly sending the ode up to Heaven on the wings of her voice. Let her words be the perfect outro: “My desire for my album is that people will be inspired to bless God and worship God. I want people to get the Crystal artistry, but have the God experience.”