My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Crystal Sands – ‘The Hard Times’

crystalsands2Crystal Sands’ debut album last year was one of my favorite recent discoveries. The young Baltimore-born singer has a charming voice and her first album, produced by Wood Newton, consisted of a fine set of songs, and was thoroughly country to boot.

Her follow-up (on the same Texas indie label Ah-Ha Music Group) is not quite as good. New producers Gary Leach and Greg Hunt show a slightly heavier hand, and whereas Crystal co-wrote a few songs last time with veteran songwriter Newton, and the remainder of the material came from external sources including some well-chosen covers and more of Newton’s songs, here the focus is on Crystal as singer-songwriter. Her writing is decent, but not yet outstanding.

The best song is the genuinely affecting ‘He Never Held Me’, a bitter take on a childhood blighted by a father’s alcoholism:

I grew up scared to death of that man
He never knew me…

He missed my first steps
He missed my first words too
He never did what real daddies do
He held that bottle, but he never held me

How could someone live life so selfishly?
You can’t change the past
And you can’t erase the memories
Daddy’s little girl I guess I’ll never be
He held that bottle, he never held me

The tone intensifies as she addresses her father directly:

This wall between us is too hard to break
And don’t say youre sorry now, cause it’s too late
‘Cause you held that bottle when you coulda held me
When I needed you you needed whiskey
And I tried to forgive you but the past won’t let me
Your little girl I never was, and I’ll never be,
You held that bottle, you never held me

The song apparently draws on Crystal’s own experiences, and also starting with a drunk father is the even angrier ‘Lying Eyes’, which proceeds to rail at domestic abusers and warn the women who forgive them:

They don’t change
That’s the truth about men
If he did it once, he’s gonna do it again
But your heart wants to believe him every time he lies
Some women just don’t realize
What love can’t see through lying eyes

Crystal’s vocals verge on the strident at times in the more intense parts of this obviously very personal and strongly felt song.

I liked the fiddle-heavy traditional-sounding waltz ‘That Woman’, addressed to a guy who overlooks her while talking about his dreams of romance, and the heartbreak ballad ‘Hurts More At Night’ as Crystal cries herself to sleep.

The title track is a sincerely delivered ballad about coping with poverty with no apparent way out, although the lyric is not as developed as one might hope from the nicely detailed first verse. More positive is ‘Nashville, Tennessee’, a brightly optimistic look at moving to Music City with dreams of becoming a star, which is rather charming.

‘What Are We Together For’ is a pretty good song with Crystal questioning the basis of her relationship, set to a jerky rhythm and a rather familiar tune. Other songs (‘Match Made In A Honky Tonk’ and ‘He Ain’t Coming Back’) are a little on the generic side, and suffer from heavy-handed production. Most questionable is the (also over-produced) opening track, ‘Chris Young’s Guitar’, a love letter to the RCA artist which has Crystal wishing she were the eponymous instrument,

“So I could follow him around and they wouldn’t call it stalking”

Crystal has real talent, and I’ll be looking out for her work in future. However, although I enjoyed this album, I vastly preferred 2008’s self-titled debut, and would recommend that to anyone looking for new music in a traditional country style.

Grade: B

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