Krystal Hardwick - A Tale of Two Fish (2011)

Krystal Hardwick

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Cool, soothing, and tranquil to behold: few things in this life are as peaceful as water. It beckons, it hypnotizes and makes you feel vulnerable in its depths; and that can also describes what's experienced when one hears Krystal Hardwick’s debut, The Tale of Two Fish.  

Cool, soothing, and tranquil to behold: few things in this life are as peaceful as water. It beckons, it hypnotizes and makes you feel vulnerable in its depths; and that can also describes what's experienced when one hears Krystal Hardwick’s debut, The Tale of Two Fish.  

Based in Houston Texas, Ms. Hardwick came of musical age in the 1990s, infatuated with and intrigued by the heavy-hitters in that era (Brandy, Aaliyah and SWV, etc.) before her father turned her on to other genres (jazz, house) that broadened her horizons and became part of her repertoire.  Those influences can be sensed throughout, but instead of outright swagger-jacking them, Krystal weaves them into heady combinations of bare-bones jazz and R&B, with a tinge of hip-hop phrasing and attitude. As the title implies, the musical moods are fluid and interchangeable, but also murky and, occasionally, ice cold. The unhurried pacing of the tracks, as well as her sweet, wispy vocals, often mask the steely barbs she’s hurling about, whether she’s questioning her man’s shady dealings (on a pointed and percussive “The (W)ho”) or telling him she’s gathering strength to leave his his raggedy tail (the straight-ahead R&B jam, “Waiting to Break Up”). Her delivery, which can oscillate from be-bop era scatting to b-girl flavor and soulful sass, is confident and compelling to behold.

More than just a striking sister with a fluffy ‘fro and supple voice, Ms. Hardwick is the co-producer and chief lyricist of ….Fish. The tracks paint vivid pictures of a woman who’s as vampy and vulnerable as she is cynical and cagey. “No Other Way” pledges fervent devotion even as her verses fade into echoes and careen into space, then she happily waits her turn for a busy playa in the undulating, up tempo “Mr. Mulatto,” where one can imagine her twirling in abandon and reeling in amore as the song flutters into a beautiful, billowy climax. “Love, Me” is both slinky and somber, as she confesses her confusion about life and her place in it (“Seems like I’ve given up again, there’s no bright side to see/ I’m trying to sort the puzzle out, I think that I’m missing a few pieces”) before, surprisingly, drifting into a rustic cover of Billie Holiday’s immortal “All of Me,” sung with an understated, yet arresting cadence that pays tribute while her own polish and personality shine through.

Are there any bold, bombastic productions to be found here, or Auto-Tuned hooks with a hip-hop verse thrown in for mass consumption?  Nope. In fact, ….Fish is a collection of songs that one would expect to hear at a poetry lounge, in a yoga class or even during a quiet picnic on the beach, with enough grooves strewn about to be relaxing, yet revitalizing all at one. Like the Pisces sign that she was born under, Krystal Hardwick is a deeply-feeling soul who struggles with two extremes, floating languidly along with the current or dashing apart from others as she makes her own way.

Could her debut use more delineation between numbers so that the songs don’t ebb and flow too closely together? Yes. Should Krystal enunciate more to add gravity to the messages? Sure. And was she all kinds of wrong for sticking a mindlessly chaotic intro right at the beginning of the CD (“Fresh Out of Water”) that risked clearing the room before the party even started? No doubt. But those minor setbacks shouldn’t (pardon the pun) damper enthusiasm from the open-minded to hear this Southern Girl’s worthwhile…..Fish tale. Recommended.

By Melody Charles

 

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