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Birdsong's too sweet for words

Seven million people discovered Birdy's version of Bon Iver's Skinny Love on YouTube.

My first introduction to this 15-year-old English girl's talent was a six-track advance-release CD. As a marketing ploy, the sample CD is a tried-and-tested strategy. It's old school.

The monochrome cardboard sleeve carried a retro photo of what could have been a teenage Laura Nyro, with long naturally wavy hair and heavy eyebrows. But I was unprepared for the clarity of her vocal expression and the seemingly effortless confidence displayed fronting a team of accomplished musicians.

By the time Birdy's re-modelled version of 1901, by French outfit Phoenix, had played out it was clear that Atlantic Records had discovered a bright new talent.


With such obvious command of delivery and presentation at her disposal (she plays piano), it seemed odd that Birdy should content herself with haunting reinventions of songs by a range of writers from Bon Iver (Skinny Love) to James Taylor (Fire and Rain) and The xx's Shelter.

While years of singalong television talent shows have devalued some wonderful songs, the fact remains that a top tune is the essential engine that drives the star-maker machinery.

We're assured Birdy writes songs. There's one, the unprepossessing Without A Word, on this 11-track indie-pop cover-version debut.

We're told this policy was adopted to allow 15-year-old Birdy to concentrate on her exams and not have to worry about writing songs as strong as The National's epic Terrible Love or Fleet Foxes' atmospheric White Winter Hymnal.

While there's no denying Birdy's immense vocal talent, it's a risky approach. Although it conjures up a sensation of driving through a nighttime snowfall, White Winter Hymnal veers too close to Aled Jones for comfort. And Terrible Love is a bit too tea-shop and less burnt-out basement.

Either young Birdy has exquisite taste or her production team had fun drawing up possible songlists. There's an errant trip-hop beat underpinning The Postal Service's The District Sleeps Alone Tonight. Birdy sounds older than her years as she delivers the kiss-off line, "And I am finally seeing why I was the one worth leaving."


On Francis Farewell Starlite's I'll Never Forget You, she sounds like the ghost of Portishead's Beth Gibbons. It's understated and quietly effective.

That the production credits include Rich Costy (Muse, TV On The Radio), James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Klaxons) and Jim Abiss (Adele), indicates that this is a carefully considered proposition.

So could Birdy be the new Adele?

Including Fire And Rain alongside a tremulous account of Cherry Ghost's People Help The People suggests there's a campaign afoot to appeal to a more discerning demographic than the nation's sweetheart.

It's an odd mix. With more than a hint of the early Elton John from some arrangements, Birdy caters for indie and middle-of-the-road tastes. She's talented and could be huge. But for this promise to really dominate, you feel Birdy will need to write a few hits of her own. HHHII