"Shari Addison" Shari Addison (Verity)
"Crystal Aikin" Crystal Aikin (Verity)
Crystal Aikin may have won Black Entertainment Television's "Sunday Best" contest - the network's "American Idol"-styled competition for gospel artists - but runner-up Shari Addison did so well she got a record deal too, on the same label.
Now they're releasing their debuts on the same day and, after hearing the two, it becomes clear that Addison should no longer be considered anyone's runner-up.
Addison, the Chicago native who was originally thought by BET's "Sunday Best" judges to be unlikely to gain popularity outside of the church, comes on strong with a clear and powerful sound certain to draw new listeners and inspire them too.
"I Praise You" is funky in an Al-Green kind of way, Addison's cover of the James Cleveland classic "Please Make Me Better" gets kicked up a powerful notch when the band starts churning behind her near the end of the track and "You Can Rise," backs Addison with a more contemporary sound to which she nimbly applies her gut-wrenching gift.
Throughout the album, Addison's identity is well-established and her faith is felt.
Aikin seems to struggle with establishing her style and sound.
After winning "Sunday Best" by reinterpreting every tune thrown at her with deep conviction and meaty vocals that came to define a kind of "Aikin-flair," "Crystal Aikin" lacks cohesiveness. It's uncertain whether she wants to showcase her versatility or just hasn't decided which sound is her favourite yet.
The bar is set significantly high for the emergency-room nurse from Tacoma, Wash. She was justifiably a judge favourite on "Sunday Best." But when it comes to drawing new listeners, there's a difference between offering an album whose sound is new, and one that's a melange of all the sounds out there.
"Crystal Aikin" dabbles in everything from the urban R&B flow of "Lord You Reign Forever" to the modern jazz feel of "Turn to Him." There's also a duet with contemporary Christian artist Natalie Grant on the ballad "Breathe on Me."
"The Clouds" injects a glossy pop tune complete with electric guitar solo where Aikin's agile pipes take on the phrasing and tone of a Moog. Aikin opens the project with two strong ballads, but the contemporary gospel tune, "He's So Worthy" ends a little disjointedly and the rest of the album never quite congeals.
Overall, it's a good collection of songs, with no standouts. Aikin comes off as a great voice - and that's about it.
"Faith makes: The uplook good, the outlook bright, the future glorious."