GIFTS OF GRACE
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Highlights: Cold Outside, Streets of Philadelphia, Man of Colours, Flower Duet, Just Breathe
Sixteen year old Grace Bawden lives in the wrong country. She made the error of appearing on Australia's Got Talent instead of flying over to the show with the higher success rate: Britain's Got Talent. But it depends on what matters to us: quality of quantity? If she became a Simon Cowell product, she would not now be struggling as an independent artist, and she probably would not have turned down the record deal she was offered because it was of such poor value. No. She would have hit the big time just like Faryl Smith has done.
Yes, Bawden is an independent artist, so whilst Gifts of Grace does not have the fancy promo adverts and the Mother's Day push, Bawden is able to enjoy the artistic liberty that comes with not being nailed down by a record company. Hence, we have this wonderfully creative and eclectic album that is leagues ahead of Smith's commericial offering.
The audience that are familiar with Bawden from Australia's Got Talent are in for a surprise. Bawden performed as an outstanding young opera singer on the show, but her recorded album barely hints at the fact that she can sing in a full operatic voice. Her vocals are reminscent of Hayley Westenra's voice on her Pure album. She keeps her vocals clean, and holds back on the vibrato technique to bring out a crystalline performance. This brings about similar interpretation problems that Westenra still has to this day. Both Westenra and Bawden are technically flawless, but both have problems with conveying emotion in their performances. Bawden, unlike Westenra, is capable of a different vocal technique, and perhaps should have brought the operatic influence in her performance a little bit more to prevent the vocal monotone.
This is not too big of an issue for Gifts of Grace, thanks to its diverse track list and arrangements. The selection of songs are refreshing. Although it does contain the 'Flower Duet' it is given a different twist, and Bawden wrote the lyrics herself. It is a bit jarring on initial listens, but after the shock of the arrangement, it is clearly one of the highlights of the album. 'Amazing Grace', beautiful song as it is, is as boring as it always has been due to the fact that it has been recorded by everyone, but as far as standards go, that's all this album delightfully has. Instead, we have original compositions and unusual covers.
'Streets of Philaphelphia' is an inspired choice for Bawden's angelic voice. The arrangement has a chill-out quality to it and elevates the song to a whole new haunting experience. 'Dear God', an eighties pop song by Ultravox's Midge Ure is another bizarre choice, and the song is given a just as bizarre arrangement that sounds completely different from the original, but it works because, along with the 'Flower Duet' it is one of the few more upbeat tracks on the album. 'Dust in the Wind' is starting to build momentum in the classical crossover genre, having been previously covered by Sarah Brightman and William Joseph, and the arrangement used here is too similar to Brightman's version to have any impact. Duller moments of the album are caused by tracks like 'Longer' and 'People' that really drag the pace of the album down.
Greater tracks include 'Man of Colours' which is being used as the lead single, probably because it showcases her pure voice so well. 'Just Breathe' is another highlight, co-written by Bawden herself along with albums producer Audius Mtawarira; a name worth mentioning as he composed the best song on the entire album; Bawden performs 'Cold Outside' with the Soweto Gospel Choir and it is a rare song of exquisite beauty. Everything about this song works: the choir's vocal arrangement, their male soloist, the simple instrumental arrangement, the lyrics and the strong performance from Bawden.
Gifts of Grace is one of the better debut albums, with an artist that is unafraid of risks and taking her career into her own hands despite her young tender age (she recorded this album when she was fourteen and fifteen). This album conveys an artist that does not want to be pigeon-holed, does not want to be a commodity, and an artist that has advanced and mature understanding of music and what it means to her. Bawden is someone well worth giving a chance.
1. Streets of Philadelphia
3. Dear God
4. Cold Outside (ft. Soweto Gospel Choir)
5. Flower Duet
7. Man of Colours
8. Long and Winding Road
9. Now and Forever
10. Just Breathe
11. Dust in the Wind
12. Angels Will Watch
13. Amazing Grace