Gabrielle Aplin's first success came from the unlikely source of a Christmas TV advert that became inescapable in the U.K. during the 2012 festive period. Her cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Power of Love" almost managed to snatch the coveted U.K. Christmas number one spot away from the glare of the public's favorite X Factor hopeful. However, prior to this flurry of fame, Aplin had already amassed a loyal following from her YouTube channel -- which had already surpassed ten million views. Here on her debut full-length, English Rain, Aplin explores her country-folk-inspired pop sound, with the addition of a full band and production from Mike Spencer (Emeli Sandé, Ellie Goulding, Rizzle Kicks). The opening tracks clearly speak to her known influencers, Nick Drake and Joni Mitchell, as the rousing "Panic Cord" sets the tone of the record, and Aplin reflects on a broken relationship to a Mumford & Sons-esque folk romp. However, it's on the record's quieter moments that she sounds most comfortable. "How Do You Feel Today?" is simply accompanied by a delicate string arrangement, while "Home" and "November" are allowed to swell naturally to a satisfying chanted chorus ending. In addition to stirring stadium folk tunes, Aplin knows how to write a power ballad, and the slow burning "Salvation" brings together her best assets for a beautiful piano-led track that evolves into an unexpected crescendo of synths and drums. Although it is expected to appear here by fans, her popular cover of "The Power of Love" would do better to have been left as a bonus track or simply in its Christmas single state, as it fails to sit comfortably alongside her own body of work. Other fleeting moments of promise raise their heads throughout, such as the Amy Macdonald-sounding "Human" and the hymnlike "Ready to Question," which both fall to the wayside somewhat. The sleek-sounding production is at times rather heavy-handed, and even though in some instances the additional strings and array of instrumentation are welcome additions, a better introduction to Aplin may have been through the simpler methods that brought her so many plaudits from her stripped-back YouTube covers.
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