Like so many before, Grace Cummings used to spend her time covering classic rock tunes at home, and uploading the resultant video to Facebook. What made Cummings a bit different from your run of the mill singer was her voice – an extraordinarily intense growl that seems to rumble up from the depths of her very soul.
It was that voice which turned her version of Bob Dylan‘s It’s All Over Now Baby Blue into something of a viral phenomenon, catching the attention of the team at King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard‘s label Flightless Records who were enamoured enough of the Melbourne songwriter to sign her up. A debut album, Refuge Cove, soon followed and now, little more than two years later, we have the follow up.
The first thing to note about Grace Cummings is that her music is pretty much unclassifiable. Some may call it folk, but there’s something that can be deeply unsettling and uneasy about these songs. There are nods to psychedelic, but without the tendency for self-indulgence. One thing is for sure, as soon as Cummings starts to sing a note, you’re immediately hooked.
Heaven opens the album in typically intense fashion, with Cummings voice showcased against a series of acoustic guitars. The song ebbs and flows, with nods to religion in the lyrics (“Ave Maria” is mentioned in the chorus, but the passion in her delivery of “there is no God, there is no Queen” would indicate that this is very far from a religious song).
Most of the tracks on Storm Queen feature quite sparse instrumentation: an acoustic guitar here, a piano there. This is a wise move by Cummings (who also acts as producer on this second album) for it gives her voice room to shine. Raglan is probably the track closest to having a full band on it: there’s a definite early ’70s, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young feel to it, with banjo and fiddle making an appearance, but the focal point is always Cummings’ voice.
At times, Storm Queen sounds like a work in its own particular time and space, in the best possible way. There’s a haunting quality to the likes of Dreams, a stately piano ballad, while Here Is The Rose nods to country, with Cummings tapping into the same other-worldly vibe as Vashti Bunyan. The blast of saxophone on the title soon becomes unsettling, sounding like the soundtrack to one of David Lynch’s more grotesque nightmares.
It’s probably not the sort of album to cosy up with – there’s so much emotion pouring out of Cummings’ vocals that it may all become a bit much for some listeners. Yet it’s astonishing that this is just her second album – there’s more poise and talent on display on Storm Queen than in artists with twice her career. Grace Cummings is yet another name to be added to the seemingly never-ending talent roll coming out of the city of Melbourne.