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Crystal Sands - The Hard Times
A cut by cut in the artist's own words
Label – Ah-Ha Music Group
Interview by: Cheryl Harvey Hill, CSO Senior Staff Journalist

Her new album may be titled The Hard Times but hard times may be a thing of the past since lady luck was definitely smiling on Crystal Sands when she was named Female Vocalist of the Year at the 2009 Texas Music Awards in the same month her sophomore album was wrapping up. Sands had co-written on a couple of tunes on her debut album but on this one she flies strictly solo. That's pretty gutsy for a new artist but when you consider that Sands was born and raised in Maryland, where the state motto is “Manly Deeds, Womanly Words,” and you combine her pilgrim roots with the bravado she picked up while living in Texas; well, she's not only immensely talented, she's downright fearless. Sands wrote every song on this album and in her cut by cut, she gives you a personal glimpse into the inspiration for every track. I was the very first country music journalist to interview this young artist, before she even recorded her debut album, so I was eager to catch up with her career and I definitely was looking forward to going over her new album with her. We wasted no time getting started:

“Every song on the album has a very special meaning to me,” she says, “and they are all very personal stories. I never thought of my songwriting as therapy before but after recording these songs, and hearing the final cuts, I can honestly say it's a relief to have these emotions out.” she adds with a laugh, “Now that I think about it, that's exactly how I feel when I finish the last line of every song.”

Looking back I see now the whole process as being on an emotional roller coaster but I'm proud of the outcome. I think as you listen to the album, the situation that inspired each song is almost self explanatory, starting with the very first track.”

Track one: Chris Young's Guitar - “The inspiration for this song is obvious by the title and I'm pretty sure that a lot of his fans will relate, especially since Chris Young, the 2006 Nashville Star winner, won the title of 'Country's Hottest Bachelor' in a recent Country Weekly poll. Obviously, I am not the only one who wishes I could be his guitar,” she says with a huge grin. At this point I ask if she recalls our very first interview and she immediately starts laughing and says, “Oh no, don't even go there! Don't you dare embarrass me!” Sorry, Crystal, I can't resist. You see, when she was still an aspiring singer back in high school, I asked her what what her goal in country music was, and without thinking, she blurted out, “To marry Chris Young!” She immediately retracted that comment however, and said that she was only kidding. I knew she was merely joking, of course, but she wasn't sure I was joking when I said that her comment would be the headline for our interview feature. I'm sure she didn't sleep much until that interview went out and she realized I was only kidding too. Now that she has put all those feelings into a song, well, I'm pretty sure it's okay to tell that story.

As for me, this first track is an up-tempo, radio friendly, toe tapper with clever lyrics. The instrumental riffs are also strong and I don't know how Chris Young's fans will feel about the song but I'm quite certain that Chris will be flattered; and rightfully so.

Track two: Match Made in a Honky Tonk - “This is the fast paced two-stepper of the album. While I was living in Texas I sang at several honky tonks. As a people watcher, I guessed that a lot of the couples who were dancing either just met that night, or perhaps they met there a long time ago, and still came out to dance. This song is about one of those couples who fell in love to a country song. I envisioned a heartbroken lady at the bar, only there to have a drink, and a lonely man, whose heart has also been broken, he asks her to dance and there you have your 'Match Made In a Honky Tonk.' I may be a bit naive but I think it happens all the time.”

Track three: The Hard Times - “The third track on this album is the title track; The Hard Times. This is how I have felt at difficult times in my own life and I'm sure a lot of people will relate to the lyrics due to the economy we are now suffering through, but others will find that these words fit like a glove during other difficult times in their lives. I'll let the lyrics speak for themselves on this track.”

Sands may be willing to let her lyrics speak for themselves on Hard Times but I have to say that as a two time cancer survivor, who is now suffering from COPD/emphysema, when I heard Sands sing “...but I keep on movin' and hold my head up high / because there ain't no easy way out of the hard times,” I fully understood those words more than I ever wanted to. “I feel like I'm always just barely getting' by / can't win for losin' in this game they call life.” For me, this was most definitely the strongest track on the album. Absolutely, brilliantly, written and splendidly sung with gut-wrenching emotion.

Track four: He Ain't Coming Back - “Like just about everyone who is going to hear this song, I have had my heart broken. You eventually get to that place after you have split up with someone where it starts to sink in that it really is over and he/she isn't coming back. You come home from work one day, toss your coat on the chair and you have this flashback to when he or she would be sitting there, just waiting for you to get home. Now you're all alone and reality hits hard. Like most songwriters, writing a song about what ails me, has become my therapy; this is one of those. “

Track five: “'He Never Held Me,' is the most personal song I have ever written and I cried the entire time I was writing it. Sadly, I am sure that a lot of people whose parents are alcoholics will relate to these lyrics. I never really talk about this subject and I have never told my birth father how I feel. Every word of this song was painfully extracted from a deeply hidden part of me. I found out he started drinking again about a week after I wrote this. I don't really want to say much more about it except that I am glad I finally have gotten these feelings out and maybe my song will touch another father who is holding a bottle instead of their child. I sincerely hope so.”

Track six: What Are We Together For? - “I wrote this song, start to finish, in just a few minutes and I'm told that I'm not the only songwriter who does that. The first verse and chorus came to me, just how you hear it on the album, within about two minutes. I was just sitting there with my guitar and I could hear this really sassy melody rolling around in my head and I just went with it. I love it. It is one of my favorite songs on the album.”

Track seven: That Woman - “I didn't have any particular guy in mind when I wrote this song. It's about a woman who is in love with a friend. He has no idea that she is in love with him and he has never even thought of her in the romantic ways she thinks of him.” This is a truly beautiful waltz and if you don't get goosebumps on the chorus when you hear Sands touching vocals; well, you better get your emotion meter checked because it's broken!

Track eight: Lying Eyes - “This song tells three separate stories with a common link; one about alcoholism, another about cheating, and a third, about physical abuse. The chorus is the link between the stories and describes how love can disguise the truth. I have been through, or witnessed, all three situations in one way or another. These are problems that a large percentage of the world experiences. When a woman doesn't face the truth about someone she loves, that can be dangerous. If you love a man, you want to forgive him, but some things are just unforgivable. In more than half of abuse situations, it seldom happens only once. I hope this song opens some eyes and prevents that second chance from ever happening.” This is a very powerful song with an important message.

Track nine: Nashville, Tennessee - “I was on the way to perform at a show in Maryland. I was stopped at a red light when I noticed the truck in front of me had Tennessee tags. They had a couch, a bed frame, a dresser, and things like that, piled up in the bed of the truck. Of course whenever I see anything that says 'Tennessee', Nashville immediately pops into my mind. From where I was performing in Maryland I quickly figured out that it was roughly about 1000 miles from Nashville. So I thought 'Man! That should be me on my way down to Tennessee.' I might make it, you never know unless you try, right? Well, one of these days I'm going to have an answer to that question.”

Track ten: Hurts More at Night - “This is the first full song I ever wrote. I never had the opportunity to record it before so I just had to put it on this album. Whenever I was heartbroken, my mom, like most moms, would tell me things to try and help ease the pain. If she ever heard me crying at night, she would come in my room and talk to me. One thing she said has always stuck in my head, 'It will get better everyday, but it always hurts more at night.' That's when you lie there thinking about him and its simply the loneliest time. This is in my top three favorite cuts. I love how the musicians brought this song to life for me. I think the music intro sounds like a lullaby which really adds a special touch to the song.”

“There you have it, there are the ten songs on this album. I feel like I have ten babies. I am in love with each song. They all mean so much to me in their own unique ways. I couldn't be happier with how this album was produced. The musicians did amazing, It is unbelievable how it turned out; just like I heard it in my head. I am so thankful. I feel really proud and blessed to have this album.”

My guess is that these wonderful songs will soon be heard in a lot of places other than the head of the beautiful Ms. Sands. Every track is a definite keeper and that's not something I say very often, in fact, I don't think I've ever said it in my more than ten years of reviewing albums.

The album is true country to the core but with enough gusto to please everyone. I think Sands will soon be making the transition from The Hard Times to Easy Street.

Chris Young's Guitar
Match Made in a Honky Tonk
The Hard Times
He Ain't Coming Back
He Never Held Me
What Are We Together For?
That Woman
Lyin' Eyes
Nashville, Tennessee
Hurts More at Night




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