It’s probably a good thing that you can’t trademark a title, because Perfectly Imperfect, as an album title, has been around the bend more than once. (See, for instance, Elle Varner’s first album, which came out in 2012.) That said, I’m not about to complain about seeing it on this five-song EP by Wunderkind Grace VanderWaal, winner of last year’s America’s Got Talent; it’s that good, and yet it may rub you the wrong way.
I think the issue, for me, is that Grace’s singing voice is crisp and pure, but the way she uses it is somewhat mannered; she’s writing at the level of Taylor Swift, which is some dandy writing indeed, but I can’t help but wonder if she learned to sing by listening to old Tom Waits records. (Then again, there are a lot worse role models than Tom Waits.) The big hit, “I Don’t Know My Name,” appears, as it should, as Track 1; perhaps the charmer here is “Beautiful Thing,” co-written with producer Greg Wells and featuring none of Grace’s trademark ukulele at all, only Wells’ piano work. Grace’s vocal here blends sprightly youth with the world-weariness of us old folk without ever sounding like anyone other than Grace. I keep reminding myself that she’s just turned thirteen, and I wonder if there’s a ceiling for her; but after hearing some of the covers and new songs she’s sent up to her YouTube channel — named, disarmingly, “Oh Never mind it’s just me” — I’m inclined to think that, for now anyway, the sky’s the limit.