With an unforgettable voice at its heart, Storm Queen by Grace Cummings is a beguiling body of work that enchants and haunts in equal measures.
There’s something innately human about the desire to categorise — but every now and then, you get hit with an experience that’s so sensually powerful, so raw, and so haunting that logical appraisal becomes impossible. Such is the connection that Grace Cummings makes with her voice.
Fittingly, this singular instrument is the first thing you hear on Storm Queen, Grace Cummings’ sophomore LP. It arrives by way of Heaven, the lead single and album opener. It also heralds the interplay between the tragic and the transcendent moods that define the record.
If Heaven showcases the guttural extremities of Cummings’ voice, Always New Days Always swings to the opposite end of the spectrum, effortlessly climbing through evocative melodic shapes: a lullaby in the eye of the storm.
Self-produced, the atmosphere of the album is hugely enhanced by Cummings’ tonal choices. While the voice remains central, there’s a rotating cast of supporting elements, including acoustic guitar, punctuated with twangy, electric countermelodies.
The booms of the piano chords create a rhythmic framework for the swells of the organ in tracks like Dreams, providing a cinematic bed for Cummings’ vocal phrases. And though the recording has the air of painstakingly tasteful curation, the sound was driven by a desire to maintain naturalism. Cummings notes:
“I am who I am and I sound how I sound, and I’m not really interested in going in like some kind of magician to try to make it sound any different.”
That spirit of authenticity is perhaps most accurately captured in the title track. Unerring simplicity, raw and emotionally-charged performances on from Harry Cooper on baritone sax and Cahill Kelly on piano, topped with Cummings herself: her keening phrases cutting through the chaotic maelstrom.
Though her influences can’t help but shine through — whether it be in the organic vocal inflections of Bob Dylan, or the supercharged alto of Grace Slick — Storm Queen is an album of dazzling originality and unguarded honesty. A rewarding and intense experience that will cast its spell on you, whether you spin it now, or in years to come.
Storm Queen is out now via Virgin Music Australia.