No matter how compelling Krystal Keith's voice, songwriting and debut album Whiskey & Lace may be, there's no getting around the shadow of a musical superstar in the room. Not that she'd want to, of course. Krystal's father Toby contributed several songs and co-produced the project with Mark Wright. "You can't have a better mentor," she says. "As a songwriter, as a vocalist – and he's also my dad, so I get the best of all worlds wrapped up in one person."
The concern, however, is that the uncommon opportunity and access afforded the daughter of a music icon could obscure the emergence of a truly remarkable new artist. Because what's most noteworthy about Whiskey & Lace isn't the artist's lineage, but her range. Vocally, to be sure, but it's much more than that. Put simply, the album's breadth reveals her to be incredibly adept in ways rarely seen on a debut. And that speaks to an amazing amount of passion, preparation and patience – traits that define Krystal as a viable artist in her own right.
In its earliest days, Krystal's desire to be a performer exceeded her ability. "I don’t remember a time when I didn’t sing. My sister likes to tell stories about me singing at the top of my lungs and points out, 'That was before you could sing good.' She had to learn how to sing harmony just so she could hear herself over me. But I was always a little ham and sang pretty much everywhere I went.
"There are pictures of me as a three-year-old throwing a fit because my mom wouldn’t let me onstage with my dad, who was doing a Fourth of July BBQ show near our home in Oklahoma," she continues. "So they got me onstage and I was immediately freaked out when I saw all the people. I think I just wanted to sing with my dad, more than getting in front of an audience. But music was such a big thing in our household, always a part of my life and always the path I was on."
More than a general direction, however, music was a diligently pursued focus. "I started writing music when I was nine because I was taught that not everyone can perform and make it as a singer," she says. "I started singing in competitions when I was 13 and did a lot of local and regional competitions. And I recorded my first demo when I was 17, just to get used to being in the studio, working with studio musicians and working in a vocal booth."
Krystal's comfort with such a wide range of material comes from an appreciation of the classics. "I grew up on Patsy Cline, Skeeter Davis, KT Oslin and Willie Nelson," she says. "I'm not sure I heard much current music until I got old enough to have my own car and radio. We had a vinyl player and every day I listened to the Big Bopper’s 'Chantilly Lace' probably seven times. I listened to every Patsy Cline song at least every other day. I spent a ton of time at my grandmother’s house listening to her old 8-track player long after those were a thing."
The application of those influences, her experience and undeniable talent have resulted in an album that's impossible to dismiss as a vanity project. "I know there are going to be people who only see me as Toby’s daughter, and I’m prepared for those criticisms because I’m really confident that the album and my work ethic will speak louder," she says. "Obviously I have an amazing opportunity to be on a great label and work with amazing people. I don't take that for granted or apologize for it, but I also hope people will be open-minded enough to listen and base their judgments on the music. I have faith that most people will be pleasantly surprised."
"I grew up on Patsy Cline, Skeeter Davis, KT Oslin and Willie Nelson."