joyous pop moments, few missteps

Beauty for Ashes (Myrrh)
Crystal Lewis

By Victoria Moon

Beauty for Ashes continues Crystal Lewis' journey into a strange musical amalgamation that mixes smooth pop, R&B, gospel and worship music. This project is quite possibly her best attempt at such a mix, too, with a unifying thread of bluesy gospel running through it. While there are occasional weak moments, there are moments of pure, strong pop that more than make up for the disc's foibles. The song "People Get Ready...Jesus Is Comin'" is just such a strong moment _ joyous, exuberant, and made even better by Lewis' gospel-spiked vocalizings. This is the sort of song that sticks in your head long after your first listen, and has all the qualities of great gospel: a simple, timeless message, a singable chorus and a great groove. Lewis' voice has never been in better form than on this album, rich and confident and put to good use not only on "People Get Ready" but other tracks such as "God's Been Good To Me" and "Lion and the Lamb".

When this disc does stumble, its falls are minor. There is not enough of the thick gospel-pop at which Lewis shines and too much of the sort of schmaltzy CCM-pop that can make songs sound the same, such as the formulaic "In Return" and "Over Me." The final track, "Healing Oil," has a haunting, introspective quality that made me wish that more of the worship songs on this project were like this one _ an honest revelation of the artist's feelings and thoughts, not just reworked classical Christian themes that occasionally would infuse the disc with a lack of lyrical originality.

On the whole, this is a solid, well-crafted project, and the hum-along factor of "People Get Ready" alone is worth the price of admission. For pop that inspires, makes you feel good, and can be just plain, clean fun, you can't do a whole lot better than this.