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Perfectly Imperfect is the debut EP release from twelve-year-old singer/songwriter Grace VanderWaal, the champion of Season 11 of America's Got Talent. The EP features 5 original songs from the young artist, soon to be a household name.
Grace captured the hearts of America with her unique talent, performing all original music during the AGT competition and using her signature ukulele. Grace's AGT audition clip featuring her song "I Don t Know My Name" went viral and has amassed nearly 200 million views to date. The young breakout star, dubbed as "the next Taylor Swift" by judge Simon Cowell, was crowned the winner and quickly signed to Columbia Records and Syco Music. She has performed on The Ellen DeGeneres Show as well as The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon since her big win and has received celebrity praise from the likes of Jason Mraz, Millie Bobby Brown, Katy Perry, Reese Witherspoon, Shawn Mendes and Taylor Swift. Grace will be supporting her debut EP with multiple TV performances in November and December of this year, and will be at work on a new album next year.
Grace announced this EP November 11th with the following comment: "A year ago I auditioned for America's Got Talent and my life changed forever. Today I'm announcing my Perfectly Imperfect EP out 12/2. I can't wait to share it with you guys. This is just the beginning."
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Her voice has a transcendent quality, there are moments when you hear someone much older; in the song "Beautiful Thing" she whispers quietly "it's all gonna be alright" like a mother reassuring her children. In the song "The Difference is the Point" (youtube only) the line "Just another season here, I don't think that it's very fair that when winter comes around, nobody ever seems to come back" is delivered by what appears to be a seasoned country performer, so much soul. Her lyrics are masterful, direct and honest and her compositions demonstrate an unusual maturity and breadth of expression, I hear so many different voices within just the one and each is powerful in its own right.
Those who have followed her journey from her first audition (and thank you Grace for sharing so much, it was fascinating to watch the process) to winning AGT shared concerns about what would transpire in the studio, would it be commercialized? I know Grace has artistic integrity but you can't help worrying.
I haven't listened to all the songs yet (though I did play them hundreds of times on youtube), how would they compare to her auditions and home recordings? The first track I played was "Beautiful Thing", the producers and Grace (obviously) agreed on substituting the ukulele with a very tasteful and quiet piano background. I'd heard the song many times before, this rendition was incredible, it was like hearing it all over again in another dimension. Remember the first time you heard a classic tune of the ages? This was like that moment. The only way I can listen to it is with my eyes closed while surrendering to the music as it transports me away to a beautiful place. "I don't know my name" is already a classic, and the arrangement here is closer to the original, full of spirit and a tinge of sorrow that ends on a powerful and happy refrain.
She has other wonderful original songs (The Difference is the Point, The Good Just Gets Better), probably enough material for another EP, but I think the decision to capitalize early on was an astute one. The compositions are extremely versatile, they lend themselves readily to many different interpretations from a minimalist approach to a more full bore execution though it must be done elegantly, a Phil Spector wall of sound would be just too much.
I'm not the kind of person who frames albums and puts them on the wall but I'm going to have a custom one designed for her CD, it will be small and tasteful. I grew up on the music of the 60's and never imagined that a contemporary artist could bring back the excitement that I had as a teenager anticipating a new LP (hope this comes out on audiophile vinyl one day). Thanks again, Grace!
P.S. One store was selling an autographed version (pre-ordered only) and I think they made a mistake in handling the unexpected volume that came through. I received an email indicating that I had to OPT IN in order to receive it and if I didn't the order would be cancelled. Many people don't read their emails carefully and they might be in for an unpleasant surprise. Management should have notified the customer that shipments would be late due to overwhelming demand and given each buyer the option to opt out. The approach they took could hurt sales and lead to some disappointed fans.
If you're not familiar with Grace VanderWaal, don't assume this is teen pop dance music - it definitely is not that! Grace VanderWaal is the most original, talented and unique singer-songwriter to come along in years, maybe decades! And she is 12 years old. Anyone who does not know the story of Grace VanderWaal on the NBC TV Show America's Got Talent, listen to these songs NOW. You will not believe from her amazing vocals that she's 12, that she alone by herself wrote all these original songs, that the themes and emotions she expresses are coming from her own heart, and that she is only just beginning to blossom as a musical force of nature.
This, her first EP (or "short album" as she likes to call it) is a magnificent re-imagining of her most endearing and affecting songs with studio quality production that soars while retaining the intimacy of her live performances. Grace explores her own pre-teen insecurities, schoolyard bullies, love of her sister and friends, and finding ones life path, in music and lyrics that are totally unique and defy typical music categories.
These are not just songs that kids will love (though millions of kids already do love them). Grace's audience is humans of any age who love unique original music, want to be inspired - perhaps deeply moved, and can appreciate a true artist who puts her heart and soul into her writing and her performance. Yes, Grace's signature ukulele is still there, and she plays it beautifully as always. The musical accompaniments included in this studio production are wonderfully nuanced letting Grace's naturally raspy voice be the primary instrument, and what an instrument it is!
If you already know some of these songs from America's Got Talent, do NOT fear that they may have lost anything in translation. I had the same concerns, and they were unfounded. True, they are different, and Grace has said as much, but she also said they are better, and I trusted her, and she was right! I won't try to review every song. "I Don't Know My Name" is an incredible anthem to finding one's way in life, with a sweeping orchestral ending. "Beautiful Thing" - I can't even begin to describe this production with just Grace and piano - intimate, touching, emotionally overwhelming, magnificent.
Grace has been described as "a gift to music" and "a living, beautiful, walking, miracle" and a singer "for the next generation". I'm way past her generation, and I think her music KICKS ASS! After rocking to and through The Beatles, 60's rock, Disco, New Wave, Punk, Alternative, Pop and everything since - this is the most excited I have been about a record release in 40 years! And I was NOT disappointed.