Grace Stumberg - To Whom It May Concern
2011, Popadelic Records
2011, Popadelic Records
Grace Stumberg is a 22-year old singer/songwriter from Buffalo, New York who proves that appearances can be deceiving. But when you hear the big voice that emanates from her 4’11” frame you will be floored. Stumberg, a graduate of Robbie Takac’s (Goo Goo Dolls) Music In Action career training program, is ready to take on the world with her debut album, To Whom It May Concern. Showing a depth of songwriting talent you don’t often find in one so young, and a presence that recalls some of the great singer/songwriters of the past, Stumberg is just a break or two away from national recognition.
To Whom It May Concern opens with "Change The World", an anthem of inspiration and aspiration about making dreams come true. Stumberg shows solid pop sensibility on what turns out to be the weakest offering on the album. Commitment overcomes the arrangement. The high point of the song is Grace Stumberg's voice, a gorgeous, velvety alto that works well for folk, pop and rock n roll. "Happier Side" is a bluesy rocker looking for the bright side in a rough start. It's a great tune, with big energy and an even bigger sound. By the end of the tune you'll be thinking may Stumberg is the real deal. By the end of "To Whom It May Concern" you won't even question it. Stumberg goes for a more Americana setting this time around, with accordion, violin, acoustic guitar, bass and drums. Stumberg sings for her own dreams here, declaring a trajectory she won't back down from; her voice is gorgeous and Stumberg creates a moment here.
"Steady" starts from a simple, acoustic guitar led look back at how things and people change over time and turns into a polyphonic, multi-layered anthem of hope. Stumberg builds the song by layering orchestration and vocal harmonies on a bit at a time, culminating in a grand crescendo of sound and melody that's breathtaking. "The Roses" shows off the singer/songwriter side of Stumberg. The ode to her grandmother or to a grandmother-like figure gorgeous details enough aspects of her life to make it real and is a compelling testament of love. Before it's over there is a lovely, baroque-style orchestration that blends in to what is essentially a folk ballad, creating a moment of beauty so rich and touching you'll be moved whatever your constitution.
"Change My Color" is a live, in-studio recording that likens the changes of seasons to personal transformations, pointing out that both are as unstoppable as any other natural law. The song features a pretty, singular and stoic melody that is unforgettable, and Stumberg's voice fills it out to perfection. "Sticks And Stones" is a refreshingly poetic kiss-off song with a quiet undercurrent that is surprisingly catchy. Stumberg's use of imagery and children's rhymes is novel in the context of someone finally opening her eyes to the truth. This conceptual coming of age is buttressed by Stumberg's velvety, sultry alto. It's an amazing piece of song craft.
"My Love", an internal exploration of love gone bad, is matter-of-fact in the telling, but underscored with a touch of regret that makes the song compellingly human. Stumberg seems to have a knack for using each song as a vessel of truth, whether expressing views of the world around her or matters of the heart. This ability to enliven ideas marks the great songwriters for who they are, and early indications are that Stumberg has the gift. "Home" blends Americana, pop and classic rock in a Bruce Hornsby-meets-Bonnie Raitt mashup that's amazing. It's a catchy, mid-tempo number about finding out where your roots belong. Stumberg is in fine voice here, and listeners may be left thinking that Stumberg has found something of a home in this sound. Refusing to be pigeonholed quiet so easily, Stumberg launches into the edgy rocker "Miscommunichicken". The chorus is almost comical: "Don't spread yourself too thin, cause just like bread on butter you're only gonna get eaten". Get beyond that, however, and you have a Ben Folds Five inspired rocker marked by heavily percussive piano and a correspondingly raw sound. It's not Stumberg's best, but is an intriguing window on the breadth and depth of Stumberg's songwriting talent.
"Wartime" is a vibrant piece of rock n roll; full in sound and stark in melody. What Stumberg has done with finesse up until now, she accomplished with inundating force of sound here. It's an overloaded classic rock feast that will make a great jam tune for live shows, bordering on the neighborhood of progressive rock without losing the singer-songwriter pastiche. There are hints of Neil Young here that are impossible to ignore. To Whom It May Concern closes with "Change The World (Woody Mix)". The mix is just Stumberg, her guitar, and occasional vocal harmonies. The song is much more powerful in this stripped down setting, conveying the struggle to make a better world more powerfully as a solitary voice.
Wow moments happen in music. You might hear a certain song and be floored by the message, or the melody, or a turn of phrase. But it's pretty rare to have that reaction to an entire album; to an artist as a whole. Grace Stumberg is young and still lacks some of the polish of a seasoned songwriter, but she has a gift that most songwriters would kill for. Stumberg makes her songs come to life for those willing to listen. To Whom It May Concern lives and breathes from start to finish, touching on people, places, thoughts, emotions and events with a subtlety and grace that is surprising in an artist so young. Stumberg can blow out the amps as well, when called for. It's that knowing when to and not to that marks the dividing lines between a great songwriter and someone who might just be discussed one day in hallowed tones. It's much too early to tell what Grace Stumberg's final trajectory will be, but she certainly seems to have greatness in her sights. To Whom It May Concern is a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc.
Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)