A young folk artist with a commanding, rough-hewn voice and forthright approach, Australian singer/songwriter Grace Cummings makes her auspicious debut with Refuge Cove. Bearing a classic tone that recalls the '60s folk revival infused with some of rock's raw power, Cummings began making the rounds in her native Melbourne in 2018, quickly building a buzz that was intensified after an online video of her covering Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" led to a contract with Flightless Records, the label spearheaded by local psych faves King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard. Rather than mess with a winning formula, the label wisely chose to capture their new signee in her natural format, recording live in a room with just an acoustic guitar and her throaty, dominating voice bouncing off the walls. What minor piano and guitar overdubs there are always serve the basic composition of the songs. Alternating between earthy poeticism and honest observations, Cummings tries to make sense of both her inner and outer worlds, drawing the audience in with an intimacy that doesn't suffer from the usual self-conscious pitfalls of confessionalism. Undertones of classic British folk resound through the windswept meditations on "Lullaby for Refuge Cove," one of several standouts. Another highlight, "Paisley," ruminates on the Scottish city of its namesake with a series of poignant verses that end uniquely in heavy sighs. On the plaintive "Sleep," she questions her own motives and foibles with an appealing candor, singing "I'm not sure I should be doing this, if this is anything at all," then later name drops Big Star co-founder Chris Bell and actress Meryl Streep. There's a sort of coarse beauty in the way that Cummings wields her distinctive voice, sounding almost blunt at times in a way that lends an eerie gravitas to the delicacy of many of her lyrics. There's also a welcome sense of immediacy in her work, like she's still in the process of figuring out how to properly use her tools while somehow sounding wise beyond her years. That freshness really comes out in Refuge Cove's austere nature and makes for a powerful debut.
AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger