The typical 15-year-old’s life consists of a precarious balance between friends, dates, school dances and getting passing grades in their high school classes. At 15, Jasmine van den Bogaerde was the winner of Open Mic UK, a YouTube sensation, and had just released her debut album. Needless to say, Bogaerde (who goes by the stage name, Birdy) had it together a little better than most 15-year-olds.
The English musician was a bit of a child prodigy; she learned to play piano at 4 years old, and was writing her own music at the age of seven. After winning the Open Mic competition in 2008, Birdy started doing covers of songs on her YouTube channel and released a cover of indie musician, Bon Iver’s song, Skinny Love. The track garnered attention and lead to a contract with Atlantic Records.
In 2011, Birdy released her self-titled debut album, which is a collection of covers of contemporary pop music. I’ve never been much of a fan of covers; my personal opinion is that unless the cover artist is able to somehow improve upon the original, then the whole thing should be just left alone. Birdy’s navigation of the songs she covers is a bit unsteady at points, but overall, her strong vocals and imagination lends to a nice album.
The disc opens with Birdy’s version of 1901, a song first released by indie rock band, Phoenix. Birdy’s version is significantly different than the original; the music is slowed down and backed by simple piano and drums, leaving more emphasis on Birdy’s throaty vocals. The first time I actually heard Birdy sing, I was sure the voice belonged to someone twice her age; her vocals are powerful and she sings in a clear, alto – not what you’d expect from a teenage girl. She handles this track nicely; the song is transformed into an upbeat ballad and allows many moments for Birdy to show off her vocal prowess.
The cover of Skinny Love follows, and I must admit that I absolutely love this track. The original version has always been a favorite of mine, but one issue I’ve always had is that Bon Iver sort of mumbles the lyrics. Whenever I’d sing along, I’d find myself also mumbling along during parts because I was unsure of the actual words. Again, Birdy slows down the track significantly, turning it into a bare, piano-based ballad, and I can finally understand what the words are as she belts them out in a clear, lovely vocals. The song becomes emotional and stirring in Birdy’s voice, and I do have to say that I enjoy this song as much as the original.
The same unfortunately cannot be said for her treatment of White Winter Hymnal. The original is another favorite of mine- I love this song by Fleet Foxes- but Birdy tries to change things too much and it just doesn’t work. The most offensive thing about this version is perhaps the cheap backing music which sounds like one of the presets on my old Casio keyboard. I’ve seen this song covered by a number of artists on YouTube, and all of the other covers are far better. I think the other thing that makes this track fail, is that Birdy tries to slow it down again, but it works far better as a fast-paced number (especially the lyrics that are sung in rounds), rather than some odd sort of ballad.
I’d never heard of Cherry Ghost or their song People Help The People, but I do like Birdy’s rendition of it. It’s another ballad, but I do enjoy listening to her voice and the lyrics are sweet (“People, help the people/And if you’re homesick, give me your hand and I’ll hold it”). She does have a very unique and stunning voice, so I enjoy listening to her on most of the tracks, even if the song itself doesn’t impress me much. Likewise, I’m not familiar with the band The Naked and the Famous, nor their song, Young Blood, but Birdy sounds nice on the upbeat number, and the backing synthesizers sound a lot less corny than they did on White Winter Hymnal.
There’s also a cover of The Postal Service’s song, The District Sleeps Alone Tonight. The track doesn’t stray far from the original, but it’s nice enough and doesn’t do any damage to the fond memories I have of the original song. Shelter (originally by indie pop/electric bad, The xx) sounds almost like a completely different song- in fact, I probably wouldn’t recognize it, were it not for the fact that I’m so familiar with the lyrics. Again, the track, which was originally a mid-tempo number, has been slowed down to a ballad. It’s nice- Birdy has plenty of room to show off her vocals again, and the sparse instrumentation allows for more focus on the lyrics- but this slowed down rendition lacks the charm and appeal of the original. Without A Word is the only new song on the album, and was co-written by Birdy herself. It’s another ballad – a very pretty one – but at this point, I’ve nearly had enough of the slow ballads and tinkly piano.
The album ends with a cover of a song by The National, Terrible Love. I’ve owned a few of The National’s albums for a while, and sometimes would hear a track or two pop up on my iTunes during shuffle or a Genius mix, but none of their music ever left a real impact on me. In fact, I distinctly remember tweeting once that no matter how hard iTunes kept trying, I would never like The National. I was right about that- iTunes did not get me to like The National- but Birdy did. Her version of their song sounds pretty similar to the original- she even sings in a deeper, lower register, as if she’s mimicking lead singer, Matt Berninger’s baritone. She doesn’t depart much from the original, but the track is still impressive; she sings it perfectly, and the backing music stands out without being obnoxious. I enjoyed the track so much, that it spurred me to listen to the original, which I enjoyed even more, which eventually lead me to listen to my first The National album in full, which I also enjoyed. But I’ll save that for another review.
Mostly, Birdy does a decent song with the tracks that she hand-picked to cover. I applaud her for choosing a diverse range of music; she tries her hand at everything from James Taylor to modern rock/pop music. The versatility is great, though I’d love to see some more original music on her follow-up album. I think Birdy has the makings of a successful artist- it’s just time that she spreads her wings and flies.
1. 1901 (cover of Phoenix)
2. Skinny Love (cover of Bon Iver)
3. People Help the People (cover of Cherry Ghost)
4. White Winter Hymnal (cover of Fleet Foxes)
5. District Sleeps Alone Tonight (cover of The Postal Service)
6. I’ll Never Forget You (cover of Zen Arcade)
7. Young Blood (cover of The Naked and the Famous)
8. Shelter (cover of The XX)
9. Fire & Rain (cover of James Taylor)
10. Without a Word
11. Terrible Love (cover of The National)