Tag Archives: reviews

Young Girl, Old Soul: Grace VanderWaal Shines on Debut Album

Rating: ★★★★★

Every so often, when the stars line up just right, and the angels find themselves all in agreement, there comes to Earth a talent so unique, so otherworldly, that even the staunchest of skeptics begin to consider the notion of reincarnation.

By outward appearances, Grace VanderWaal is a mere child. The world first glimpsed her as a contestant on the hit NBC television program America’s Got Talent. With her distinctive voice and skillful ability on ukulele, this girl dazzled viewers with an original song during audition week. She impressed the judges, who then sent her into the next round with the Golden Buzzer—an honor reserved only for the very best perfomers. With each subsequent week, Grace, like an onion, peeled back the layers and showed the world what lies beneath.

What we saw is a very old soul masquerading as a young girl. Grace VanderWaal, at the tender age of twelve, won season eleven of America’s Got Talent. And now, as if gifting the world, she’s released her debut album entitled Just the Beginning.

So, what does an album from a now-13-year-old sound like?

Pure heaven. Joy. Bliss. A sweet addiction that stirs up all those pleasure receptors in the brain.

I kid you not.

This 12-song full-length album is chock full of catchy tunes and sparkling gems that will still be relevant enough for airplay decades from now. On the album, she works with some award-winning producers that really capture the pure essence of the voice that first got America to take notice. And the fact that young Grace wrote or co-wrote every tune in this package boggles the mind.

The album opens with the ukulele-fueled “Moonlight,” a track that has listeners conjuring summer evenings under the night sky, when holding hands felt like the greatest thing in the world. “Sick of Being Told” moves us quickly into those teenage years of rebellion, when we felt old enough to make our own way, only to be reminded (by every adult) we still had a long road ahead of us.

Beneath lush piano, there’s a torment in Grace’s vocals on the darkly tinged “Burned,” a warning against continuing to do those things you know will only hurt you. “Just A Crush” dares listeners to sit still while hearing the honesty of a person who knows what she wants—and it isn’t the one she’s singing about. “So Much More Than This” is a bouncy number capable of painting even the grayest of winter skies with the lemon-yellow of summer sunshine.

“Talk Good” is a reminder of those moments when the mind wants to say the right thing but the tongue refuses to cooperate.

“Florets” is dreamy and gorgeous, filled with little bits of heaven. This one had been my favorite for the first few listens of Just the Beginning. But then I found myself entangled in the dark poetic beauty of the album’s closing track, “Darkness Keeps Chasing Me.” Anybody who has ever fallen under the blackness of depression can connect with this number. The maturity in her lyrics contradicts Grace’s age:

Opening my eyes
Seems like it gets harder sometimes
Look at the skylight
Would you mad at me if I tried running away to it in the night?
I tried to fight
But I’m not strong enough
I just want you here but I also wanna be alone
I don’t know what I want anymore

This is not a child singing here; this is a wise old sage taking refuge inside a young girl.

Have a listen to “Darkness Keeps Chasing Me” and find out what I’m talking about. If this song doesn’t touch you on some level, you just might want to check your pulse.

“Darkness Keeps Chasing Me” (with lyrics) 

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Click Here to Buy Just the Beginning

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The Honesty of Reviews

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Reviews, be they for books, music, art, or movies, are important to the creator of the work in question. A good review alerts other readers that a particular book is well worth your time and money. A good review will help a singer or a band ease from struggle to success. Even in the restaurant business, a good review is often the difference between a full dining room and bankruptcy.

At the same token, a bad review can sink a Hollywood picture before it has a chance to open to the general public. Bad reviews are a part of the creative world that every participant will eventually experience. It’s just a fact of life. There’s no such thing as the perfect novel. Somebody somewhere will find something about your work they just don’t like. Even the Beatles found detractors when releasing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, an album many believe to be a masterpiece.

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A review should be an honest, critical appraisal of another’s work. This appraisal will guide customers either toward or away from that person’s hard work. In today’s world of self-publishing, many books get published that aren’t necessarily ready for an audience. The story may be fantastic in theory but severely flawed in execution. (Pay the extra money for the editor!) But even in situations like this, honesty can be achieved without being rude. Something along the lines of: “I read the story and enjoyed it for the most part. The concept is quite entertaining. It could really use a thorough editing, to clean up the poor sentence construction, misspellings, and wrong punctuation. The author would do well to read up on Point Of View.” Civility allows others to know that, though the story is entertaining, there are issues within the text.

Civility! The Oxford American College Dictionary defines that word as: formal politeness and courtesy in behavior and speech; polite remarks used in formal conversation.

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Are we capable of civility in today’s cyber world? There’s this awful thing called a revenge review, where people will post negative reviews of books or music just to draw down a particular work’s rating on, say, Amazon.com. Some people, without conscience, will trash a person’s hard work just for the joy of hurting another.

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Recently, I became aware of a reader who actually changed her review of a book after it had been posted for some months. The reason? The reviewer had words with the author over something completely unrelated to the author’s work. This is a childish move, to be sure. But it’s also a dangerous slope to tread for the reviewer. By changing a four-star rating to a one, that reviewer loses credibility with those who read that person’s reviews. To change it after months alerts me that there’s something more going on. Did it suddenly dawn on you that the work deserved a single star rather than the four-star glowing review you originally awarded? Or are you being vindictive and childish because somebody called you out on an issue unrelated to the book in question?

A review should always be honest and from the heart. Once it’s been posted, it should be set in stone—unless the author has made corrections to the work, and the reviewer has re-read the book. To change a review—especially after a period of time—lets others know your word is not to be trusted.

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Reviews are important. And even though some authors like to downplay their importance, we know reviews help sell books. It’s a simple fact. So when writing your reviews, be kind—even in your criticisms. If a book needs work, approach your review as a teaching opportunity, sharing whatever wisdom and knowledge you possess. Civility goes a long way—and not just for the author, either.