No matter how compelling Krystal Keith's voice, songwriting, self-titled EP 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 Krystal isn't the artist's lineage, but her range. Vocally, to be sure,
but it's much more than that. Put simply, her music’s breadth reveals her to be incredibly adept
in ways rarely seen on debut efforts. And that speaks to an amazing amount of passion,
preparation and patience – traits that define Krystal Keith 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," she says. "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 made her national television debut in prime time as a teenager, singing
"Mockingbird" with her father on a 2004 awards show. Despite widespread acclaim for
her vocal abilities, she delayed the artist career she'd been working toward her whole life.
"My parents really wanted me to graduate college, and my dad said he'd help me get started
at that point," she explains. "So I went to the University of Oklahoma and got a degree
in Communications with a Business emphasis. After graduation, I went full-time into working
on my album."
The process only furthered her musical growth. "I’ve been songwriting for a long time,
but only in the last couple years have I started co-writing," she says. "It's a new challenge I'm
enjoying, and I've gotten a song out of every session I've done, which is rare. I’ve been writing
with some of the most amazing, prolific songwriters in Nashville – Rodney Clawson, Chris
Tompkins, Craig Wiseman, Bobby Pinson, Nathan Chapman and more. After writing solo for
so long, having another creative soul to bounce ideas off of is a great experience."
Working with producers Mark Wright (Gary Allan, Lee Ann Womack) and her father
may have actually advanced her individuality. "As a new artist, I might have been intimidated
by another producer," she says. "It might have kept me from being as vocal about what I wanted.
But my dad gave me the creative freedom to see my vision through. We actually had similar
views on what we wanted to do.
"And I love working with Mark Wright. He brings another perspective, and he and my
dad work hand-in-hand. They bring the best out in each other, which in turn brings the best out
in me. Mark has so much experience and knowledge to share and gets so excited about his
projects – I turn into a sponge around him."
Revealing a musical maturity rarely seen, her debut EP (as well as her upcoming album
Whiskey & Lace), shows Krystal to be equally at home on the sunny, grooving celebration "Doin'
It" and the organ-accented shuffle of "Can't Buy You Money," and she easily carries the surging
and ebullient "What Did You Think I'd Do."
On the EP, she also includes one of the co-written songs – a number that also reveals
some artistic maturity – with "Daddy Dance With Me." A surprise gift for her father on her
wedding day, the song gives a bride's-eye-view of the reception tradition.
"It was a complete surprise," Krystal says of the song she wrote with Mica Roberts and
Sonya Rutledge for her own wedding. "I wanted a song that honored my dad and was something
special on my wedding day. So I wrote and recorded it behind his back. The idea was to have
a song that no bride and father had ever danced to before; it was my gift to him."
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 EP and album that are impossible to dismiss as vanity projects. "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