By Al Kaufman
America is not the only country that makes huge stars out of televised music competitions. Birdy (whose real name, Jasmine van dem Bogaerde is a little more difficult to articulate) is a 15-year-old phenom from the UK who took the grand prize on Open Mike UK at the ripe old age of 12. Since then, her viral video of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” has been seen by millions. It’s included here on her eponymous album, which includes many other indie rock covers that she puts her piano-laced and gorgeous vocal spin on.
What sets Birdy apart from other TV show talent contest winners is her choice of material. The only real cheesy misfire on here is James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain.” What she does to Phoenix’s “1901” and The Naked and Famous’ “Young Blood” is nothing short of remarkable. She slows them down and pretties them up to the point that they seem like that high school friend you haven’t seen in 15 or so years. There’s something comfortable and familiar about them, but they’ve changed and matured, and become a bit more interesting. Her cover of Fleet Foxes’ “White Winter Hymnal” is perfect Christmas fodder (the album was released in the UK in November).
Birdy comes across like a slightly less bombastic Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine. Her haunting piano and vocals slowly drive almost every song up to an emotional peak. It’s not for everyone. There’s no denying the beauty and range of her voice, but it does not have that emotional intensity of an Amy Winehouse, Joss Stone, Adele, or even (a more appropriate comparison) a Tori Amos. Her one self-penned song, “Without a Word,” (she’s been writing songs since she was seven) tries too hard to be mature. What does a 15-year-old know of a lover moving out? Hopefully not too much. But, again, she is only 15. There is plenty of time for her to learn.