Crystal Lewis “Twenty Five” Album Review

Crystal Lewis

Prime Cuts:  Lord I Believe in You, People Get Ready ... Jesus is Coming (Peace 586 Remix Featuring Propaganda), Not the Same

Few can get away with doing a couple of Whitney Houston covers unscathed by some of the most searing critical darts.  Yet, together with Angie Stone and Yolanda Adams, Lewis brought the house down at the 2012 Dove Awards with their soul-piercing renditions of Houston's Gospel numbers such as "Hold On, Help is on the Way" and "I Love You Lord."  Lewis is one of the few artists that could cross over genres with the ease of chameleon and yet proudly hold her ground majestically as a peacock.   Over the last 25 years, she is one of the few non-African Americans to rock the Gospel & R&B charts with her ensemble cast of R. Kelly, Kirk Franklin, Bono and Mary J Blige with the song "Lean on Me."  She's a rare breed to even top the dance charts with none other than the old worship staple "Shine Jesus Shine."  Besides Amy Grant, Kim Hill and a few elites among Christian music, she was offered a contract by Interscope Records to cut a secular album to which she turned down.  Over her 25 years in the music enterprise, she has astonishingly amassed 13 major studio albums, 7 Spanish-language CDs, 4 compilation records, 2 Christmas efforts, 1 EP and 1 Remix project.

"Twenty Five" as the titular indicates is a retrospective journey; one that itineraries through some of the sonic landmarks of Lewis' career.  For starters, there are three brand new remixes tagged towards the end of the second disc.  Often "remixes" are a worry if the songs are de-constructed to such an extent that they become so mechanically computerized that they are stripped off all emotions.  This is not so with Solomon Ray's remix of "Beauty for Ashes."  Giving the song a more polished and crisp sound, the cynosure is still on Lewis' supple and the song's Scripturally soaked words.  Peace 586 and Propaganda are to be congratulated not only for not to distorting Lewis' former #1 hit "People Get Ready... Jesus is Coming."  Rather, they have updated this song with a rap section and an additional verse. Listening to this new version and its ensuing edit version do not give the impression that this song is over a decade old.  Rather, they sound fresh, contemporary and hip encasing a timeless message of living in anticipation of our Lord's imminent return. 

The rest of the two CD set is a strait jacket chronological sampling of most of Lewis' studio albums starting from her debut "Beyond the Charade" to 2012's "Plain and Simple."  Most of her albums get represented with one or two cuts while we get a greater sampling of three to four songs from her career biggies (such as "Beauty for Ashes," "Gold" and "Fearless"). "Precious Lord" not only is the first of the 25 songs on this proceeding, but it is also Lewis' debut single that got her illustrious career rolling.  Here Lewis takes the hymn "Precious Lord" weaves it with her own thick Gospel growls and soars paving the way for many more hymns she would tackle later in her career. "Precious Lord" is also to be noted as one of the few songs not to be produced by Lewis' hubby, Brian Ray.  Rather, it is produced by Rhett Lawrence who has produced Mariah Carey's "Vision of Love," Kelly Clarkson's "Miss Independent" and the Black Eyed Peas (featuring Marcy Gray)'s "Request + Line."

1993 is a monumental temporal marker for Lewis.  "Bride," released that year, finds her stepping out from being a mere vocalist to being an audacious worshipper of Jesus where she sings with a holy abandon on "My Redeemer Lives."  This is going to be a trait that is going to give definition to later worship leaders such as Bethel Live's Jenn Johnson and Jesus Culture's Kim Walker-Smith. 1996's "Beauty for Ashes" is deservedly her most successful records.  Thanks to Brian Ray, many of the songs here are so vivid and picturesque that they make the words of Scripture take a three dimensional form with the title cut "Beauty for Ashes" and "Lion and the Lamb."  Lewis follows up her monstrous hit of an album "Beauty for Ashes" with "Gold."  "Gold" features two back to back number 1 hits with the confessional anthem "Lord I Believe in You" and the testimonial beat ballad "Not the Same."

"Fearless" finds Lewis going on a limp again this time incorporating elements of electronic dance into her music with the irresistible "Trust Me" still standing the test of time.  Naysayers who say that Lewis' career tapers off with the close of the 90s ought to listen to her 2002's hymn collection "Holy, Holy, Holy."  Resurrecting "His Eye is on the Sparrow," a decade before Whitney Houston, Lewis' version is soul stirring.  Criminally ignored often by fickle fans is her 2005's "See."  Containing some of her best tunes "Learn to Fly" has to be one of the best songs about faith.  Even her most recent "Plain and Simple," represented by "All Day Long," shows that Lewis has not mellowed with time.  Her genre transcending, no nonsense Jesus centered approach to many of her songs show us that when Christ is exalted people of all stripes and tastes will be enamored.  25 years represented by 25 songs at the price of one single disc, this is a treasured trove too good to be true.



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