Grace VanderWaal – Just the Beginning (Album Review)

When you are on top of the world and all you really desire is a tree-house to call your own, life is pretty darned good! Meet quirky teen sensation Grace VanderWaal, who, after winning America’s Got Talent, went up into the treetops to dream up her debut album, Just the Beginning, which was released on November 3, 2017 thanks to Columbia Records.

Let’s get something out of the way: Grace VanderWaal is just thirteen-years-old. Yes, thirteen years-old! As the winner of Season 11 of NBC America’s Got Talent, VanderWaal was introduced into many American households in brilliant HD. A Singer-Songwriter from Suffern, New York, VanderWaal wowed the judges and impressed America with her wispy vocals and gentle ukulele-playing, along with the fact that, oh yes, this fierce teen writes her own material. If that’s not enough to keep her busy, she has recently signed to IMG Models Worldwide, and has already taken home a slew of awards including a Teen Choice Award. In case you doubt this little spitfire, her debut U.S. headlining tour is already sold-out into 2018! What were you doing at thirteen?

Just the Beginning is VanderWaal’s 12-song, debut, full-length disc, the follow-up to her best-selling 2016 Perfectly Imperfect EP. For the album, she worked with a multitude of award-winning producers and writers, including the likes of Ido Zmishlany (Shawn Mendes, Camila Cabello), Kinetics & One Love (Hailee Steinfeld), Greg Wells (Katy Perry, Adele), Gregg Wattenberg (Train, Phillips Phillips) and Sean Douglas (The Chainsmokers, Demi Lovato). The end result is a collection that superbly displays all of her quirky, imperfectly perfect talents in the span of a dozen tracks.

Just the Beginning opens with VanderWaal dancing in the “Moonlight,” a gentle little angel who strums her ukulele with sincerity; creating a superbly entertaining album opener that establishes once and for all that this is no child’s play. Immediately striking up a conversation that every teenager everywhere – and some of us who stink at adulting – has daily, “Sick of Being Told” what to do is a soaring Indie Pop ode that cements VanderWaal as quirky yet relatable; she crafts not just infectious sounds but universal tales that will pinch at your heart and tug on those strings.

The haunting piano that accompanies VanderWaal on “Burned” creates a darkly poetic beauty to her already tormented vocals. How can someone have lived so many lives already at such a young age? Truly mesmerizing, she harnesses the beauty of her powerfully raw vocals on the toe-tapper “Just A Crush,” deliciously intense in its honest emotion. Despite the candid confessions baked into its core, the glorious celebration of “So Much More Than This” will have you dancing in the sunshine, while those that still do that dating stuff will groan in agreement to “Escape My Mind.”

Have you ever had the words to say but your tongue got in the way? The phenomenal “Talk Good” is a stand-out in an already stellar collection: infectious and intelligent, the best kind of earworm. She moves on by letting go, the central thesis of the dreamy “Florets,” an atmospheric flight into the heavens of Indie Pop decadence that is sure to earn a club remix. Continuing on a similar path, VanderWaal sings of spinning that record in an attempt to shut the world out, though we must always remember that we are all a little “Insane Sometimes” thanks to that thing called love. Don’t cha know?

VanderWaal’s vocals soar alongside the ever-present gentle ukulele on “A Better Life,” an embrace of utter positivity and crafting your own successes. In hope, there is joy and a tremendously merry ode to the city, “City Song” will make you want to dance through the busy streets of New York, New York while daydream-gazing along with VanderWaal’s beautifully wispy voice. She pares it down for her album’s grand finale, the more somber tone of “Darkness Keeps Chasing Me.” Accompanied by guitar and cello in this magnificently sincere ballad, VanderWaal confesses that, despite her flowery positivity, sometimes life is not quite so very easy.

There is a delicious minimalism to VanderWaal’s style that makes her easily digestible: no frills just catchiness. In fact, it is kind of hard not to compare VanderWaal to a young Taylor Swift: a one-woman phenomenon who can do it all and with a certain panache and refreshing sincerity. Their music is not remotely similar, no, but both ladies have that little something that is entirely infectious to the masses: relatable material that comes from the recesses of the heart. VanderWaal excels at her perfectly imperfect, raw vocal approach, crafting songs that go far beyond her decade-and-some-change on this planet. It will be interesting to see where time and maturity take her, considering that she is already pretty-darned awesome at only thirteen. For these reasons, CrypticRock give Grace VanderWaal’s Just the Beginning 5 of 5 stars. 

Tour Dates:

11/13/2017 New York, NY Irving Plaza (SOLD OUT)
11/15/2017 Chicago, IL Park West (SOLD OUT)
2/5/2018 Boston, MA The Sinclair (SOLD OUT)
2/7/2018 Washington, D.C. 9:30 Club (SOLD OUT)
2/9/2018 Nashville, TN Cannery Ballroom (SOLD OUT)
2/10/2018 Atlanta, GA Terminal West (SOLD OUT)
2/12/2018 Houston, TX Studio at Warehouse Live (SOLD OUT)
2/13/2018 Dallas, TX Trees (SOLD OUT)
2/16/2018 Denver, CO Bluebird Theater (SOLD OUT)
2/20/2018 San Francisco, CA Slim’s (SOLD OUT)
2/22/2018 Portland, OR Hawthorne Theatre (SOLD OUT)
2/23/2018 Seattle, WA Neumos (SOLD OUT)

Purchase Just the Beginning

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Jeannie BlueAuthor posts

Jeannie likes to joke that she is little, yellow, blue, and different. She seemingly popped out of her mother's womb with a pen in her hand and has been writing ever since. Many moons ago - in what feels like a separate lifetime - Jean was co-editor of an online music magazine that afforded her great opportunities to interview and photograph some of her favorite bands/musicians: Tommy Lee, Good Charlotte, Warrant, Bring Me The Horizon, My Chemical Romance, Sevendust, New Found Glory, Deftones, Poison, VH-1 "Band On the Run" Flickerstick, an endless list of unsigned locals, and so many others. These days, she can usually be found hiking aimlessly through the woods in her favorite Technicolor sneakers with a Nikon in hand and her rescue dog, Molly, who is a bit hare-brained.


  • Better than excellent review! At her concert at the Troubadour in LA last week she played not only tracts from her EP & newly released album, but surprised the audience blues jazz classics River and Stormy Weather, giving her own indie pop delivery to the songs.

    • Thank you so much for the kind words on the review. 🙂 Grace’s talent is, of course, all Grace; all I can do is appreciate it and be awed that she is so talented at such a young age. I am envious that you got to see her live and I hope it was a truly killer performance! 🙂

  • Damn good review of a piece of Americana history in the making. This kid is so tuned in to the human condition and draws from a deep well of empathy. The result is some of the best music I’ve ever heard that’s like looking into a magic mirror that strips all the crap and superficial trappings away. Aside from the brilliant music, as a person she exudes all the qualities of kindness, compassion, empathy, and humor that we want to see in ourselves. Just read through the comments on the videos on her VEVO and YouTube channels, and you’ll see the impact she and her music have on people of all ages, races, and walks of life, all around the world. It’s a beautiful thing!

    • Nate, isn’t it wonderful to see someone who is truly good succeeding for once? Grace has the poise and sophistication of someone well beyond her young years and the talent to back it. It’s a wonderful thing to see! I expect her to have a very good, lengthy career in music. 😀

  • I agree wholeheartedly with the review: 5/5. Simon called Grace “perfectly imperfect” (which became the name of her EP last year), but Grace is becoming less imperfect all the time. My favorite songs on the album are Darkness Keeps Chasing Me, City Song, Florets, A Better Life, Insane Sometimes and Burned (probably in that order), although all the songs are solidly written and performed. I almost never buy music, but I made an exception this time. Well worth it!

    • Thank you, Timothy! I think “perfectly imperfect” sounds very catchy but for Grace, she’s clearly perfect just the way she is. Which, in truth, is not imperfect but rather underproduced and raw; emotionally gritty. I hope she never loses that about herself and her music!

  • It’s really quite phenomenal how Grace draws you in. And at the raw age of 13. What’s really amazing is her fan base is broad from kids to seniors. Has there ever been a rising superstar to have such a broad fan base?

    • Di, not in recent memory, no. She is truly a very talented young woman and it’s a true credit to her talent that she draws in such a diverse audience. 🙂

  • Few people realize what it takes to write their own songs for normally talented people. Most song writers alone…… never make it to the big time. Those that do end up writing for other people… if they are really that good. Once in a Blue Moon…… someone comes along that’s jacked in to the Creative Essence in Life!

    Grace Vanderwaal is one of those rare songbirds…. that’s come flying in through an open window. Her voice isn’t really that special as it is uniquely mated to her exquisite song writing skills. Most Pop Stars today are just the few that make it in an industry that thinks it makes the Stars! ……with Grace Vanderwaal you get the sense she’s going to be making the Industry Better Than They’ve Ever Made Any Music Star!

    Those famous song writers in Sweden…. who write most of the Music Hits for Famous Stars from Beyonce…. Katy Perry to Rianna….. the last few decades, are in for some Real Competition from the likes of this girl. Her musicality in and of itself is so soulful and honest with ability to write a tune on the fly instantly that you know will be a hit. She’s almost so magically connected to that which is responsible for all creation that you’ll think she’s Matrix Level Jacked in!!! ….no wonder the instant people hear her… they know the lyrics instantly.

    Like everyone around the world both professionals and fans alike I predict or see in my Looking Glass a really great future for this incredibly talented young artist. She is the kind of artist that even the Pros know…. you just leave them alone and let them do their thing. No Molding…. changed stage names…. big important producers or management needed to make her any more profound a talent find than she already is! …..and forget about those lame Taylor Swift comparison. Taylor has never been this talented of a song writer in her whole life! ;-P 12 songs 12 Hit Potential…. and this is ‘Just the Beginning’? 😀

    • Mo, you didn’t me – you wrote the review right there! 😀 The fact that this is, indeed, “Just the Beginning” is kind of scary, no? How does she improve when she’s already so amazingly brilliant? 🙂

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