Crystal Aikin - All I Need (2015)

Crystal Aikin
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When I first discovered Crystal Aikin as a contestant on BET’s Sunday Best during its inaugural season, my immediate attraction was this is an amazing soprano voice breathing fire and brimstone while also unhesitatingly elevating praise and worship to incredible heights. When all was said and done, Aikin practically blew the competition away, especially with her spiritually shattering rendition of "Alabaster Box." She did so in the presence of the more than impressed Sunday Best judge and song originator, CeCe Winans. While Sunday Best introduced Aikin and gave the singer her first solo national platform, her connection with ministering for God in song runs deep, fueled by her emphatic mentor in her father and appearances with Heaven Sent Us and Soul, the latter showcased at the prestigious Gospel Music Workshop of America.

When I first discovered Crystal Aikin as a contestant on BET’s Sunday Best during its inaugural season, my immediate attraction was this is an amazing soprano voice breathing fire and brimstone while also unhesitatingly elevating praise and worship to incredible heights. When all was said and done, Aikin practically blew the competition away, especially with her spiritually shattering rendition of "Alabaster Box." She did so in the presence of the more than impressed Sunday Best judge and song originator, CeCe Winans. While Sunday Best introduced Aikin and gave the singer her first solo national platform, her connection with ministering for God in song runs deep, fueled by her emphatic mentor in her father and appearances with Heaven Sent Us and Soul, the latter showcased at the prestigious Gospel Music Workshop of America. With such an obvious anointing as this, my anticipation and expectations behind this Tacoma, Washington’s native debut CD was quite high after being crowned Sunday Best's inaugural winner. Treasuring the memory of her father who passed a few years ago, Aikin then rolled up her sleeves to launch her grand prize of a major label recording contract.

Regrettably, her self-titled Verity Records debut in 2009 ran into some unsolid ground with too many production cooks in the studio, despite veteran talent behind the boards like Asaph Ward (Dorinda Clark-Cole). Although her vocal capabilities were absolutely not the main culprit, the creative input between producers and song material ended up in eclectic disarray that sometimes de-emphasized Aikin’s musical personality. Yet, considering those miscues, gospel radio caught onto a few gems that accentuated her fiery praise with “A Song About Jesus,” “He’s So Worthy” and “I Desire More” (the latter two produced by Ward), and Aikin was deservedly rewarded with several fruits for her recorded labor.

After securing a nomination for “New Artist of the Year” at the Dove Awards and her debut reached #3 on Billboard Gospel Charts, it was believed that Aikin would perhaps follow-up with another CD within a year or two. That was not the case. Now six years later some inquiring minds might be tempted to ask that familiar, dreaded question: “Where is she now?” Well, Aikin had chosen to invest the last several years assessing where she really was as an artist and surrounding herself with those whom she could sincerely trust to seek with her Aikin’s artistic and ministerial best beyond the Sunday Best stage. In the meantime, Aikin's journey has taken her to showcases (the “Gospel + Soul Showcase” at the 2014 South by Southwest) and Living Word at the Stellar Awards weekend, and performing at conferences and numerous churches, especially around the Western region of her home base of Washington State. When the time arrived to finally prepare for her sophomore release, All I Need, Aikin secured a production team that would be more sensitive towards her praise and worship vision.

For starters, the six-track All I Need is primarily guided by producers, Phillip Bryant and David Lindsey, whom focus more on Aikin’s vocal dynamics, an area that was lacking on her debut and resulting in a vast improvement over that industry introduction. Aikin also contributes more songwriting, another helpful tool in making All I Need a more personalized worship experience. With the assertive punch of Beyoncé and Aikin's own gospel get-up-and go, the praises of “I Won’t Let You Go” definitely go up, providing all the benefits of staying firm in Christ through the storms: “I will always trust and believe… whatever He has for me/I’m ready to receive…until my change comes/I’ll wait for what You promised me.” “Mighty to Save” is a power worship ballad perfectly suited for Aikin’s very durable pipes. This is not discounting how she successfully navigates around quieter arrangements such as “Right Here With You,” co-authored by former Sunday Best contestant - William Demps. On the Demps collaboration, Aikin balanced a magnetic worship connection backed by just piano and strings with a resonating lyric: “I never want to miss your voice again.” “Heaven” might as well be re-titled the “Heaven Melody,” ushered in with the familiar hymn, “When We All Get to Heaven” and followed up with original lyrics on the second half as Aikin exhorts her audience about that unspeakable joy: “In His presence, there is the fullness of joy.” With its organic worship feel, simple keyboard arrangement, and a rich backing choir, All I Need’s first single, “So Amazing,” which reunites producer Asaph Ward from her debut, could receive much attention in the contemporary church community. Though Aikin knows how to administer worship ballads in a heartbeat, she can also flex her jazz chops, as is the case for “So Good” with its inspirational message of “you’re the God of all possibilities."

If there are any quips about All I Need, they lie in the occasionally compressed background vocals and the curiosity of only six tracks considering the six years in between recordings. These are only minor distractions that otherwise demonstrate what Aikin can accomplish in the studio. For those who still might be unaware of her special anointing, hopefully the wait for Aikin’s next studio work of art will be a much shorter wait and deliver much more material for her already loyal fan base. Solidly Recommended.   

By Peggy Oliver

 
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