Birdy – Birdy (2012)

A YouTube sensation after the she posted a bruised and lonely solo take on Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” last year, the 15-year-old English singer Birdy will finally see the American release of her long-awaited debut.

Birdy, whose real name is Jasmine Van den Bogaerde, has surrounded herself with A-list material and producing talent, covering the likes of James Taylor, the National and the Postal Service while working with Jim Abbiss (Adele, Arctic Monkeys), Rich Costey (Muse, TV on the Radio) and James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Last Shadow Puppets and Klaxons).

The wonder of her talent, really, is that the precocious Van den Bogaerde rarely loses her way. She has the gumption of someone who’s been doing this for years — and, really, she has. Van den Bogaerde starting playing piano at 4, and wrote her first song at 7. Most remarkable of all, however, might be her singing. Performing with a devastating fragility, Van den Bogaerde has a voice that can sound as breakable as an eggshell, and just as beautifully translucent. Yet, listen to “Skinny Love,” as she gathers herself into a crepuscular cry — one that’s not so much black as a very, very dark blue. There’s a depth of strength still untapped.

“1901,” the album opener, adds a quietly supportive band, but Van den Bogaerde still inhabits the middle of their quiet storm. Nothing distracts from her dusky confessions. When “People Help People” gently ramps up into a mild accusation, it feels like a windswept acceleration after such a long period of impressively narrow emotional focus. “Shelter” finds Van den Bogaerde entering the fluttering vocal dreamscapes of Kate Bush, but with a more unambiguous narrative sense. “Without a Word,” the album’s lone original, finds Birdy emboldened toward an Adele-like resiliency. Only her take on James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” mildly disappoints — perhaps because, unlike many of the other somewhat lesser-known covers here, this track has become so solidly ingrained in our communal consciousness.

Birdy, due March 20 from Warner Brothers, might have recalled Tori Amos’ airless piano ballad reworkings of Nirvana, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin on the 1992 Crucify EP, if Van den Bogaerde didn’t possess so much soulful nuance — and, more importantly, such a starkly direct approach. Belying her years, Birdy helps us hear new things in these familiar tracks, even as she begins what promises to be a very intriguing career.

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Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.