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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Grace Stumberg - Affect

Grace Stumberg - Affect
2012, Popadelic Records
Grace Stumberg proves that big things come in small packages.  The 4’11” singer/songwriter from Buffalo, New York has a voice as big and powerful as she is small.  Her 2011 debut album, To Whom It May Concern, was a groundbreaking fresh of air that mixed unusually subtle songwriting for a 22-year old with an unusual musical conscience.  Stumberg remakes herself with her sophomore effort, Affect, finding a heartier, soulful vocal sound and a more confident stance as a songwriter.

Stumberg starts out by lampooning pop culture and clichés about what it takes to make it as a performer in "Flaunt This". The song reflects a maturing worldview and sense of self that is healthy and fired by a tell it like it is attitude. Stumberg's voice has a sultry and soulful side that was less evident on her debut. The result is a splendidly acerbic pop song full of a sensual anger. "America's Got Talent" is a tuneful and buoyant song of disaffection with the state of music, lamenting the fact that so many people both within the industry and without forget that it’s all about the music.  “Song For Grace Potter” is a gritty call out by Stumberg of a one-time idol who went corporate.  It’s a classic “you sold out” message, but the air of condescension here is a bit pretentious from one so young, and doesn’t necessarily reflect well on Stumberg.  It is, however, a fine way to garner some attention, calculated or otherwise.

“So Cruel” plays on the theme of relationship games. It’s a taunting number that finds Stumberg in her upper range for much of the song.  While capable here, her comfortable range is down an octave, the combination of pitch and drawn out vocal line borders on uncomfortable at times.  “Limbo” explores the sort of relationship purgatory where one of the two simply stops communicating.  The frustration and need here are palpable, and Stumberg is in her best voice.  “Happier Side” is a song of desperation for hope, and fitting for the times we live in.  Stumberg’s band moves together as if one organism and she fires the song from the opening notes with a voice that sounds iconic.
“It’s No Good” is a bit generic in construction, but thrives on the strength and personality in Stumberg’s voice.  “Root Beer Fairy” on the other hand, is a silly/fun party song with a dark side.  Stumberg lets down her hair and rocks out with her locks out, selling the song through conviction and force of personality.  “Ring Song” is an angry diatribe about a friend getting married.  The message is a warning, but there’s an undercurrent of anger her that suggests deeper investment perhaps.  The arrangement matches the message in-line, full of angry guitar hooks and some devastating solos.  Stumberg brings the curtain down with a dreamy, acoustic number called “Appreciate”.  The song itself is impressive, but the recording itself sounds very much out of place, having the messy aura of a demo recording alongside all of the highly polished rock and roll that came before.

Grace Stumberg continues to grow as a singer, songwriter and performer.  Her efforts on Affect speak to some wonderful successes and also some distinctive growing pains.  Stumberg offers firm stances and strong opinions in song in a rapidly maturing voice.  Stumberg might overreach at times, but she’s certain to get attention in the process.  Musically, the album is very well done, and Stumberg continues to have one of the most intriguing young voices in rock music.
Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

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