Grace Cummings’ debut was a tempest that proved hard to ignore. While it slipped out a bit quietly as part of Flightless’ stable in 2019, once listeners heard her wind-torn vocals and sweeping songwriting, they were left dumbstruck. On Refuge Cove Grace allowed the voice and guitar to lead the way — a powerful exercise in starkness that’s subsumed by circumstance. Little else is needed to propel her power out of the speakers but, as she proves on Storm Queen, to back Cummings into a folk troubadour corner would be to underestimate her. She again assumes the helm in the producers chair, but this time the album flirts with fuller arrangements, skewing cinematic and sentimental when the strident sweep piano and strings fill the speakers or pushing towards and almost opulent ‘70s rock sound on songs like the opener, “Heaven.” Grace proves that drenched in the blood and sequins of dramatic trappings, she can push her songs past the power of her own voice.
There might be nowhere more emblematic of this than the title track. “Storm Queen” feels tremendous on first listen, a glowering track that’s cut through with darkness and scarred sax bleats. While she still occasionally perches on the stool with only guitar in hand, now those moments comprise a respite between the crash of “Heaven,” the swell of strings and choir on “Freak,” to torchlight teardown of “Storm Queen.” and the country lilt of “Raglan.” The latter leaning actually crops up quite a bit this time and it’s a welcome addition to her repertoire. The lament of fiddle marks quite a few songs and it lends a weathered air to the record. Refuge Cove was a staggering start, but with Storm Queen, Cummings has unleashed a tour de force that pushes her into into a new league. It’s a gorgeous, tumultuous, tender album that already sits high on the list to beat in 2022.
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