I’ve been a fan of Ella Henderson ever since she auditioned on X Factor UK. She has a great, distinctive voice, a large range of genre she sings well, and a sweet disposition. So, you can imagine my excitement when her debut album, Chapter One, released. I waited with bated breath for my CD import of the deluxe version to arrive (iTunes has an exclusive in the U.S. for now and I don’t use iTunes). I rarely pay extra for deluxe but I’m delighted I did. So I’ll focus on the five (yes five!) bonus songs. For an insightful look at the main album, you can check out our review here.
“Billie Holliday” is an upbeat song in which she recognizes that hers is a vocal vocation. It’s probably my least favorite song of the album because, with an exception of a little vocal trill at end of the song, there is nothing in this that is reminiscent of Billie Holiday. It also seems to trivialize the pursuit of writing songs. Maybe Ms. Henderson can “sit back and let it happen naturally,” but I suspect hard work is involved.
If you’ve ever been in that place where it appears that your relationship is going to grind to an unrequited halt but there’s still faint hope, “Beautifully Unfinished” is your song. This is no light connection, but a painful love that feels like it will be lost. There is a large part of you that wishes you never fell for the other person; your life would be easier if you didn’t. But there you have it – you’re in love. While it’s waning, the relationship isn’t over; there is still an oh-so-faint hope. It is, as the title suggests beautifully unfinished. Your worry, of course, is that it may remain so forever. This poignant theme is matched to gorgeous piano playing. This is one of my favorite songs of the album, bonus material or not.
This seems to be the year to reflect on childhood; Taylor Swift does it and now we have “1996.” It’s a sweet song about growing up and the family and friends who people the early chapters of our lives. It has a great, catchy tune that is full of fun and nostalgia. Overall, Ms. Henderson does a nice job enunciating her words but there are a couple of funny spots on this song. When I first heard it, I wondered why she was singing about a napalm baby! Oh wait, that’s an 8 pound baby. When she references Lizzie Maguire, it sounds like Livie Maguire. All of that aside, it’s a lovely song.
It’s hard to imagine much in the way of unrequited love in Ms. Henderson’s life being attractive in both looks and personality. She does love to sing about it however. “5 Tattoos” is also about potential unrequited love that’s at the tipping point. She sees him as the one and only; she’s not receiving assurances from his side. Once again her lyrical, driving piano playing comes to the fore.
“Giants” is another favorite. The theme is familiar: don’t let others get you down and don’t let past mistakes stop you. Take risks and live; live like giants. This Terrific song begins with a compelling a cappella drive to remind us that we have all felt like failures. The song continue with light piano, more drawn out notes and moves into a light driving beat. We start out fearful, but as we remember that all fall and we must persevere, we have victory over our fears. This song is well sung with a fabulous chorus.
Overall, I was struck by the high quality of the bonus tracks, two of which I liked even more than some of the core songs. Ms. Henderson makes a strong debut and puts a lot into this album for fans to enjoy. This deluxe version contains one of the better sets of bonus songs I’ve heard and certainly one of the most extensive sets.