Krystal Keith takes Sooner Theatre stage in preparation for new release

Six months ago, Krystal Keith gave birth to her daughter, Hensley Jack Sandubrae, and over the course of endless feedings, rockings and diaper changes, she realized her repertoire had changed dramatically. Somehow, the rough-hewn eclectic country of her 2013 debut Whiskey & Lace had given way to something more akin to Formula Bottles & Spit-Up Cloths.

“I’m always singing,” Keith said during a phone interview while Hensley cooed and gurgled in the background. “Being a singer, you’re constantly working your voice, and your voice will get out of shape and lose some of the fine tuning if you don’t use it. But I sing all the time — I’ve sang more lullabies in the past six months than I ever thought I would in my entire life. I joked to my bandleader that I’ve written so many lullabies in the past year that we might have to tour on a lullaby album.”

Daughter songs

But with Hensley off to a great start in life, Keith is ready to get back onstage and will perform her first hometown show in three years 8 p.m. May 5 at The Sooner Theatre, 101 E. Main St., in Norman.

“It’s good to be playing home again,” she said. “It’s a little nerve-wracking. I’m not one who really gets nervous, but I haven’t played in about a year, so I have to remember the words and everything,” she said. “But once I get back onstage, I know I’ll be fine.”

Since she is the daughter of a country superstar, Krystal Keith garnered considerable attention for her debut album, but then Whiskey & Lace stood up on its own and received strong reviews. Much like Keith herself, Whiskey & Lace was co-produced by Toby Keith, but as a co-writer on much of the album and voice at the center of it all, Krystal Keith was proud to earn the praise.

“It’s really easy for a celebrity’s kid to say, ‘Hey, grab me 10 songs and let me just go cut them,’” she said. “But if you really work at it and look at it as an art form, I think people can tell the difference. I worked for three years on that album, and you get nervous about putting your blood, sweat and tears out there, but you get it out there and you just hope everybody likes it. The fact that I got the reviews I got, that’s a success, and I just hope the second album can live up to the standard I set with my first album.”

In 2004, when she was 18, Keith made her national music debut on “Mockingbird,” a cover of the Inez and Charlie Foxx R&B hit made famous in the 1970s by Carly Simon and James Taylor. The duet with her father, which appeared on his Greatest Hits 2 album, whetted Keith’s appetite for a music career, but Toby Keith insisted that his daughter go to college first and get some more life behind her before making her move as a country singer.

“I give my dad some credit for making me wait until I was a little bit older and a little wiser. The song selection was a lot more mature than it would have been if I had come out with an album at 18,” she said. “My skills as a songwriter I’d honed [when] I had more depth and life experiences.”

One of the greatest surprises that came out of Whiskey & Lace was “Daddy Dance With Me,” which became a viral hit on YouTube (5.6 million plays) and is becoming a standard for father-daughter dances at wedding receptions. Almost like a Christmas song, Keith said it’s a song that continually renews itself, and while she said she had no idea “Daddy Dance With Me” would achieve this kind of longevity, it keeps gaining traction after three wedding seasons.

“We were like, ‘This is one of those songs that’s kind of niche, and it’s going to hit the wedding market if it’s going to hit anywhere,’” she said. “It’s a year-round thing, but at wedding season, people email and message saying, ‘Hey, congrats on your new song!’ And I’m like, ‘It’s not new, but thank you!’ It’s one of those songs that could be a classic, stands the test of time and sticks around for a while.”

Musical art

Before her pregnancy, Keith said she had five songs ready to record for her follow-up, and now she is back at work, hoping to release an EP by the end of the year. The style will continue along her eclectic bent, in which she brings the elements of country, rock, pop and R&B she loves into the mix. While she is first and foremost a country singer, her personal tastes are varied.

“I hear people all the time who say, ‘I’m a country fan, and I hate rap,’ or ‘I hate rock, and I like just country,’” Keith said. “I don’t understand that at all. In my mind, it’s all music and it’s all an art form. There’s people like Bruno Mars and Pharrell who are just complete geniuses who can go to any genre and pull it into what they do. I can’t help but appreciate that.”

This is a skill she pulled from her father, who regularly meets and befriends fellow songwriters in disparate genres, from Barry Manilow to Sammy Hagar. When she was growing up, Toby Keith would play his daughter artists that would seem unlikely for casual observers of the man who cowrote “Beer for My Horses.”

“Honestly, it was Alanis Morissette,” Keith said. “My dad is a big fan of her writing, and we’ve sat and listened to her together a lot. He listens to everything. I turned him on to Bruno Mars, he turned me on to Alanis Morissette.”

Print headline: Father-daughter dance, Krystal Keith returns to the stage and prepares a follow-up to 2013’s Whiskey & Lace.