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In culling through albums released late last year that I still play with pleasure, Paloma Faith's Fall to Grace was a real keeper. In contrast to my joy, Faith was singing about her agony: her broken heart, her wracked sobs about ruined affairs, her choked goodbyes to lovers who'd left her. She made all this sound tremendously intense and exciting. Not for nothing did she title her previous album Do You Want the Truth or Something Beautiful?
Throughout Fall to Grace, Paloma Faith surrounds her surging voice with grand, vaulting structures of sound, lush orchestrations that, at their best, don't smother her voice. It's no wonder that she's found fans in older artists such as Elton John, with whom she recorded a charity single. Faith sometimes reminds me of Bryan Ferry, another singer who likes to stand tremulous in the presence of both heartache and elaborate arrangements, singing with an urgency that would sound campy were it not so convincingly sincere.
As an actress, Faith has appeared in the Terry Gilliam film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. In her music, she enacts scenarios of contrasts — the lonely girl; the woman who's found what she thinks, hopes, prays may be her soulmate. For all her pop-star ambition, Faith convinces you how much she yearns for homebody stability in one of the best songs on this album, "Just Be." Mostly just the sound of Faith's voice and a piano, she implores the person she adores to "just say nothing, just sit next to me ... just be." The rare simplicity of the arrangement and the starkness of the words and the tone she uses to put them across is striking.
Inevitably, as a young white female British singer with R&B and classic pop influences, Faith has been compared to Amy Winehouse and Adele. She falls somewhere in the middle of the two: less blood-and-guts soulful than Winehouse, while aspiring to the anthemic pose that Adele achieves with ease. On stage, she tends to dress very formally, with long brocaded dresses; when she appeared on David Letterman's show, her hair was done up as though she planned to go uptown to attend the opera at Lincoln Center after the taping. If Paloma Faith can maintain the quality of the music she's making, she's going to have lots of fans following her every musical and social cue.