Sunday, August 17, 2014

Spaz reviews STEPHEN CUMMINGS' Nothing To Be Frightened Of




     Any music fan with a decent knowledge of Australian music is well aware of who Stephen Cummings is. However, Cummings has traveled so many musical paths since the late '70s that those who enjoy his music probably have different opinions based on the many stages of his career.  There are those that fondly remember his work as frontman for The Sports, who were often compared to artists like Joe Jackson, Graham Parker & The Rumour and other similar acts who blended Rock influences, Pub roots and Punk energy.  His solo career began in earnest in 1984 with the synth-laden Senso album.  Cummings was never afraid to try something new, often mixing several different genres throughout the course of a single album - from tender ballads to soulful Dance Pop to primitive Rock 'n' Roll. . His two albums in the mid-'90s, Falling Swinger and Escapist, were recorded with The Church's Steve Kilbey and are often thought of as Cumming's masterpieces. By the time those two albums were released, Cummings had moved away from his experiments with Dance Pop and embraced the darker human side of Rock and Folk.  And with over 20+ solo albums to his credit, it’s astounding that every single full length he has released has been different than the one before or after.  This is an artist with a unique sound that is always working on his craft, moving in directions as he sees fit, record labels be damned. Each and every one of his albums is worthwhile, especially the ones he's released since Falling Swinger. Truth be told, 2003's Firecracker is an especially good one, a definite stand out in a catalog of outstanding albums.

     With the release of Nothing To Be Frightened Of, Cummings throws another curve ball and offers up an album stripped to Rock and Folk's most basic elements - guitar and vocals.  Instead of traveling the path of every pretentious singer/songwriter on the planet, NTBFO avoids the acoustic and focuses on longtime musical co-hort Shane O'Mara's electric guitar, some haunting organ, drums and Cummings' voice. It's raw and primal, but it’s not Rock 'n' Roll.  This is an album that defines a new genre: Garage Folk Rock.  Recorded in just two days, NTBFO is emotional, haunting and primitive. It’s dark, yet hopeful. The album is not unlike the album's he's been recording over the past two decades, but it’s not like them either.  Cummings has a distinct musical vision that seems to work on many different levels. Sometimes he sounds bitter, other times bemused, but he is always beguiling. As simple as they may sound, many of the tracks 'feel' so much deeper than they appear on the surface.  Songs like "Love Is A Hurting Thing", 'Not Over You", "A Joy To Sit Alone" and the title track are right up there with the best of his previous work. Only "Flying" fails to connect with this writer, but repeated listenings will be the true test over time.  The album feels loose, at times as if they were making things up as they went along, but that is part of NTBFO's charm. The production is warm and clean, so it doesn't sound like they were sitting in the kitchen in front of a boom box and hitting the 'record' button - it's not THAT primitive! When Cummings sings, he sounds nothing less than passionate and lost in the moment.  Worlds away from his recordings with The Sports, Cummings is even more vital today than he was some 37+ years ago.

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