Grace Cummings
Storm Queen


4.5
superb

Review

by Mathias CONTRIBUTOR (58 Reviews)
January 15th, 2022 | 34 replies


Release Date: 01/14/2022 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Pushing the realms of what folk music can be.

Grace Cummings' voice could have been enough. It’s an alto that’s capable of a belt, rasp, growl, and whisper, all while being incredibly emotive, seeming to just barely hide pain that you wouldn’t wish on a soul. Isolating Cummings voice and backing it sparsely with a guitar would have been enrapturing enough (as evidenced by her excellent, if not obvious Bob Dylan-worship, debut Refuge Cove), but the roar of her creative spirit is enough to match and elevate the roar of her voice. All of the great folk artists of the 60s and 70s that revolutionized the genre sneak their way in to Storm Queen, whether it be the cadence and delivery of Bob Dylan, the lyrical lilting of Joni Mitchell, or the unhinged nature of Tom Waits, but the true inspiration that Cummings draws from these seminal artists on her sophomore album is the need for revolution within the genre. The raspy growl of her alto voice is powerful enough, but in the moments where Cummings artistry breaks loose, she makes music that may be umbrellaed under the folk label, but takes the genre into a kind of art folk that is nearly impossible to define.

Even with the plethora of ideas that it employs, Storm Queen is an incredibly cohesive album that clearly has Cummings' imprint on each track. Opener “Heaven” leads with Cummings' clearest strength, highlighting her voice as the song grows in intensity behind powerful cries of “Ave Maria”. Melodramatic “Dreams” trades in Cummings' prodigious guitar playing for piano, with the wrenching, near over-top delivery making good use of her other career as a stage actor. “Freak” has a gorgeous fiddle solo that interplays with the piano and creates a sound that wouldn’t be out of sorts in a Western cowpoke saloon. Each track has its own incredibly unique sound, but they all remained tethered due to Cummings' voice and by following the main tenets of folk music - Lyrics based around humanity, simple song structures based around an acoustic guitar, and emotive, no frills vocals. This produces an album that keeps the listener wondering what innovation they’ll hear next, but also one that is still cohesive enough to not sound like ideas being thrown at a wall in order to claim creativity.

This ability to brilliantly diversify a simple sound is perfectly illustrated in the discordant decadence of the title track. The song starts with a teasing amount of baritone sax that quickly drops away as Cummings sets the scene for a bluesy acoustic murder ballad. That baritone sax comes back in tantalizing moments throughout the song until a complete explosion about two minutes in. A screaming saxophone solo, distorted slide guitar, and a sense of impending doom from the rhythm section sees out the final two minutes of the song, showing that Cummings' songwriting ability is impressive even when her powerful voice isn’t part of the mix. Storm Queen borders on gothic for the entirety of its runtime and the title track sees it fully embrace that label.

Storm Queen isn’t just moments of imaginative chaos, however. Part of what makes those creative gambles so successful is the moments of restraint throughout the album. There are a number of pared back songs that still hit the emotional highs seen in the rest of Storm Queen and, when at their strongest, these simpler arrangements even manage to even compete with the less conventional moments. “Raglan” again brings us back to the folk ballads of the seventies, with a repeated coda that is accompanied by fiddle, banjo, and slide guitar. “Up In Flames” is only Cummings' voice and a simple strummed acoustic guitar, but never overstays its welcome as the longest song on the album. Storm Queen was recorded in a very small number of takes and that rawness shines through on “Up in Flames” and the bleak, near lullaby-like track “Two Little Birds”. Some of the acoustic tracks, while perfectly serviceable and fine songs, do tend to pale in comparison to the more creative output seen here. However, these songs are few and far between and each track still has their own moments that make them more than just fine tributes to days-of-folk-music-past.

Closer “Fly A Kite” has the listener believing that Storm Queen will end on one of these stripped back moments, which would be a fine, if not somewhat anticlimactic, ending. Just as we are being lulled into this simple sense of security, a high pitched operatic trill appears to remind us of the artistry that Grace Cummings possesses. While this vocal line isn’t anything mind-blowing, it is a reminder of the brilliance of the compositions heard at the peak of this album. None of Storm Queen’s eclectic moments of brilliance are forced into songs for the sake of being eclectic or artistic. Folk has seen a lot of deviance in its expected patterns in recent years, but much of the steps other artists take seem as though they want to make folk music for the modern times, with the addition of electronic elements being used most often, to various degrees of success. Even though one would be hard-pressed to describe it as simply a “folk” album, Grace Cummings doesn’t shy away from that label on Storm Queen. The innovations she introduces are all logical steps in the folk lexicon, but it takes a special artist to take the logical and make it brilliant.



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user ratings (17)
3.8
excellent


Comments:Add a Comment 
dmathias52
Contributing Reviewer
January 15th 2022


1647 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Ok I know this has only been out for a few hours (I've been hyped on the singles for awhile), but this is the most exciting folk album since My Favourite Faded Fantasy. The title track legit sounds like it could have been on Trophy Scars latest



Still trying to get back into a reviewing groove, so feedback is much appreciated!

Gnocchi
Staff Reviewer
January 15th 2022


16250 Comments


Great review. I’ll see if I can throw a few pointers in when I go on break later.

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Sowing
Moderator
January 15th 2022


40056 Comments


I'm so glad you reviewed this. I was on the fence about listening to this and might have skipped over it considering all the other big releases this week, but I definitely won't miss it now. The songs released before the album didn't immediately click for me, but I could tell that her voice was uniquely powerful.

Digging: Domestic Terminal - I Could See Midnight Sky

dmathias52
Contributing Reviewer
January 15th 2022


1647 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Appreciate it Gnocchi! I already went through and made some changes and beefed some stuff up a bit, but I both feel like I am not descriptive enough while also using too many pointless adjectives lol



Sowing I can see you loving this. It's the type of folk album I've been waiting for for a few years. It pushes the genre without just relying on electronic elements or studio effects (not that there's anything necessarily wrong with that). Honestly I hear some Sloppy Jane similarities here too

JesperL
Contributing Reviewer
January 15th 2022


3857 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

adjectives are never pointless if they're pretty, and this is a v pretty review!

will definitely give this a listen, seems interesting

Digging: yourboyfriendsucks! - Episode 1

Slex
January 15th 2022


12768 Comments


Must check this

Digging: Cloakroom - Dissolution Wave

Sowing
Moderator
January 15th 2022


40056 Comments


This is great. She's at her best when she blends eerie and pastoral, and reminds me a bit of Keeley Forsyth. Freak, Raglan, Storm Queen, and Fly a Kite are first glance highlights for me.

WatchItExplode
January 15th 2022


9493 Comments


Commenting so I remember to check this

Sunnyvale
Contributing Reviewer
January 15th 2022


3284 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This sounds nifty, gonna give it a spin in a moment! Nice review, dmathias!

Sunnyvale
Contributing Reviewer
January 15th 2022


3284 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Definitely something to this, on first listen.

WatchItExplode
January 15th 2022


9493 Comments


That voice is something else all right. The juxtaposition of it over a lightly strummed acoustic guitar makes me uncomfortable. I generally like the songs with expanded instrumentation better.

Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
January 16th 2022


26865 Comments


What a voice, holy crap, not as low and overwhelming as Circuit Des yeux, but Grace's raspy tone is pretty amazing, checking the first tracks now.

Digging: Tomb of Annihilation - End of Time

conesmoke
January 16th 2022


7118 Comments


The sax on the title track is utterly filthy and makes that song for me

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
January 16th 2022


44405 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

glad I checked this; here is the rose / raglan and the t/t / fly a kite were the two pairings that did it for me, but as you say there's a really solid spread of ideas here

not sure I love her voice on every track though - only a first listen, but my impression was that her vocal delivery isn't as versatile as her songwriting, and it grates a bit as such. may retract this

lovely lovely write also +++

since you asked for feedback (which i wouldn't have thought to give otherwise), your style and form are looking fab here but i wonder whether you need quite so much analysis to make your points, esp as far as cursive overviews of individual songs are concerned. i feel that past a certain amount of referencing, you end up in the territory of summarising an album rather than reviewing it - not this ruins the piece or whatever, and i'm trying to break that habit myself so am potentially overscrutinising for it, but that is your Note !

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fogza
January 16th 2022


4148 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Hmmm will have to check this

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conesmoke
January 16th 2022


7118 Comments


Bird looks like a crimson rosella. I see them from time to time flying around in pairs. I wonder if that one's her pet

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
January 16th 2022


44405 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

damn, i've spent too much time on this site - initially read that as a zak comment and did a big double-take. that's cute though, would love more behind the scenes goss for that artwork

dmathias52
Contributing Reviewer
January 16th 2022


1647 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Lots of comments here to catch up on!

@Slex I hope you enjoy! I could see it being your thing

@Sowing Wasn't familiar with Keely Forsyth, will check. Your highlights are probably mine as well, besides maybe switching out Freak for Heaven. Two Little Birds is my pick for the acoustic tracks

@WatchItExplode Agreed on all accounts, though I can't tell if feeling uncomfortable is a pro or con for you. A positive for me, one of the things that's most engaging for me about this

@Dewi I checked Circuit Des Yeux once last year and really enjoyed and never went back - Will fix that! Seems like a good comparison, although music wise I think Grace is a little more "straightforward" (although I think most things are compared to Circuit Des Yeux)

@Johnny Glad you liked it! Honestly somewhat surprised that Raglan is on your list of faves, it's probably the most "country" track on here, which I didn't think would be your vibe

Per the feedback - It's appreciated and something I've been noticed in my reviews as well. I feel like when I don't have a specific angle in mind for a review I follow a general structure of "Introduce general vibe of album -> Describe a few songs that are highlights -> Highlight a song -> Touch on the parts that maybe aren't as successful -> Closing remarks". While I don't think that structure is necessarily bad, it's also kind of a boring default. I also just get so excited about individual songs that suddenly I find I've written about like . . . all of them lol. Definitely want to try to diversify my writing style more beyond that

@Fog - Glad you checked - Seems like you enjoyed it well enough!

@Conesmoke I love this cover and I love this comment



Ok long comment over



fogza
January 16th 2022


4148 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Yeah it was pretty enjoyable, I think this is the third time I've discovered something I like from your reviews, so I think you're good luck!

Evok
Contributing Reviewer
January 17th 2022


8830 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Im really excited to hear this

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