Music Review: Faryl Smith, "Faryl"
Release Date: May 5, 2009
· Official Site
by Paul Schultz
Published: May 28, 2009
Faryl Smith didn't even make it to the finals of last year's UK reality series Britain's Got Talent, but American Idol fans on this side of the pond know how beloved fourth-place finishers can become. And so, the tall, skinny 13-year-old schoolgirl from the small town of Kettering in Northamptonshire, England signed a lucrative, multi-album recording contract, and the first fruits of her labor can be heard on her debut, titled simply Faryl.
Because she sings classical music as a mezzo-soprano, Faryl gets a certain amount of "street cred" that fellow teenagers from the Disney stable like Miley Cyrus or Demi Lovato or Aly & AJ don't because they are surrounded by a wall of sound and don't have to rely on their vocals to carry a song. Faryl, by contrast, has a subdued soundtrack, with orchestral arrangement and production by Jon Cohen (Opera Babes). It's definitely a mellow outing, but one that rightly showcases Faryl's lovely vocal talent.
For instance, the disc opens with John Newton's well-known Christian hymn, "Amazing Grace," with just a light piano accompaniment. It eventually swells with a 60-piece orchestra backing, but not before you've become accustomed to Faryl's restrained operatic pipes. Intriguingly, Johann Strauss' "The Blue Danube" gets lyrics by Ivor Novello Award winning writer Frank Musker and becomes "The River of Light." It's an utterly natural fit for the famous tune, and became the smart choice as her first single. The popular Charles Gounod/J. S. Bach aria set to the Latin prayer "Ave Maria" is one of those compositions that never fails to bring a chill to my spine. While still beautiful, the performance here doesn't really rise above just ordinary.
Tear the roof off the sucker: Singers Katherine Jenkins
(left) and Faryl Smith (right) perform on Centre Court
at Wimbledon in a ceremony on May 17, 2009 to mark
the unveiling of its new retractable roof.
The fourth track is an abrupt change in style, as Faryl tackles country star John Denver's #1 hit from 1974, "Annie's Song." It's nice to hear a contemporary version and it just goes to prove that a really great song can be timeless, as Faryl keenly brings out its subtle beauty. She interprets another pop song on the album's closer, "The Way Old Friends Do." This underexposed gem from ABBA's 1980 LP Super Trouper is rewritten by original songwriter Björn Ulvaeus, who personally changed the lyrics to steer it away from its melancholy treatise on divorce to the more teen-appropriate topic of friendship.
Faryl sprinkles in conventional classical fare such as "Brahms' Lullaby" with diverse, if equally familiar, offerings ranging from American folk ("Shenandoah") to Broadway musicals (Leonard Bernstein's "Somewhere" from West Side Story) to British romantic standards ("A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square"). She renders "Mother of God, Here I Stand" (from John Tavener's sprawling The Veil of the Temple, and more popularly heard on the Original Motion Picture Score for "Children of Men") without words to create an aural experience of atmospheric resplendence. A bit of personal relevance appears in the form of the traditional Welsh hymn "Calon Lân," taught to Faryl by her grandfather. The Baptist hymn, "How Can I Keep from Singing?" is executed with gentleness, though its power is diminished somewhat by the lyrical rewrite popularized by Pete Seeger which strips out much of the Christian wording. Finally, if you purchase the Deluxe Edition you get a bonus track, the ballad, "Danny Boy."
Simon Cowell's Britain's Got Talent has certainly churned out a string of classical singing sensations from past winner Paul Potts to this season's darling, Susan Boyle. The success of this genre has benefited Faryl Smith in her quest for fame beyond the show. She has duetted on "Walking in the Air" with fellow contestant Andrew Johnston for his album One Voice, and took to the stage at The Classical BRIT Awards with opera legends such as José Carreras and Placido Domingo. She has already done a promotional tour of America, and will sing the national anthem before the start of the FA Cup Final between Chelsea and Everton at Wembley Stadium on May 30th.
||Faryl Smith, "Faryl"
|01. Amazing Grace
02. The River of Light (Blue Danube)
03. Ave Maria
04. Annie's Song
05. A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square
06. Mother of God, Here I Stand
08. Brahms' Lullaby
09. Calon Lân
10. How Can I Keep From Singing?
12. The Way Old Friends Do
But would we even be talking about her, if not for her tender age and innocence? Her beautiful voice is obviously still youthful. She's no Sarah Brightman, though the potential is certainly there. Is it the allure of a girl on the cusp of nubility that drives interest? There is a fearfully analogy to the career of Charlotte Church, another youngster with the Voice of an Angel who began singing bonny sacred songs, then spurned her Catholic faith and descended into a media-harassed spiral of hedonism, and hasn't been heard from since her ill-conceived foray into pop music.
So, while comparisons both female (Hayley Westenra) and male (Josh Groban) abound, Faryl is strictly for the fan who already brings acquaintance of her charming personality to the table. Otherwise, on its own merits, it is just a collection of stock favorites of a calm and peaceful nature that don't quite stir the emotions as much as they should. As her voice matures, though... look out!