DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
Paloma Faith is a young British singer and actress who sings in an extravagantly emotional style. She's cited Etta James and Billie Holiday as influences. But rock critic Ken Tucker says that Faith's second album, "Fall to Grace," established is a distinctive Paloma Faith sound.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PICKING UP THE PIECES")
PALOMA FAITH: (Singing) Do you think of her when you're with me? Repeat the memories you made together. Who's face do you see? Do you wish I was a bit more like her? Am I too loud? I'll play the clown to cover up all these doubts. Perfect heart, she's flawless. She's...
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: In culling through albums released late last year that I was still play with pleasure, Paloma Faith's "Fall to Grace" was a real keeper. In contrast to my pleasure, 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?"
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN YOU'RE GONE")
FAITH: (Singing) When I'm with you, my heart sings. All the joy and everything washes over me and cleans me till I'm shining. For your touch, there are no words. I fly with high hopes and the birds. And I know there's nothing better, because I'm smiling. Everyone I've ever loved has left me lonely. Every time I let it go, I'm high and dry. Every time I think I'm one and only, I find myself alone, not knowing why. Oh, the mystery and the magic...
TUCKER: 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 sound. 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.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AGONY")
FAITH: (Singing) Use me, take me home and use me. Press your hands into my body. You'll be my sorrow. We both know it shows. Push me. Make me feel I'm weightless. Running. We will not escape this, shake this. You'll be addicted. I'll be inflicted. This is agony. But it's still a thrill. This could end in tragedy. Pour yourself all over. Oh, no time to waste. Let's fall from grace. Save me. Save me...
TUCKER: 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 soul mate.
For all her pop-star ambition, she convinces you how much she yearns for homebody stability in one of the best songs on this album, a tune called "Just Be." Mostly just the sound of Faith's voice and a piano, she implores the person she adores to, quote, "just say nothing, just sit next to me, just be." The rare simplicity and the starkness of the words and the tone she uses to put them across is striking.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JUST BE")
FAITH: (Singing) Let's get old together. Let's be unhappy forever, 'cause there's no one else in this world that I'd rather be unhappy with. Let's be exposed and unprotected. Let's see one another when we're weak. Let's go our separate ways in the night like two moths but know that you're flying home to me. I was born thinking it would all be dreaming but I know that I wouldn't be happy that way.
(Singing) You wear me out with frustration and heartache and anger but we wait for the wave just to wash it away. Don't say...
TUCKER: Inevitably, as a young white female British singer with R&B and classic pop influences, Faith has been compared to both Amy Winehouse and Adele. She falls somewhere in the middle of those two: less blood-and-guts soulful than Winehouse, 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.
DAVIES: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed "Fall to Grace" by Paloma Faith. Coming up, David Bianculli previews the FX show "The Americans" and the Netflix original series "House of Cards." This is FRESH AIR.