‘Full of intensity and melodrama’: Grace Cummings embraces her alter-ego on Ramona

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‘Full of intensity and melodrama’: Grace Cummings embraces her alter-ego on Ramona

grace cummings

From opener Something Going ‘Round, Ramona peacocks, plucking from an opulent sound palette of strings, horns, guitars, organ, tubular bells and gospel choir.

 Wait, do we detect castanets in the harrowing I’m Getting Married To The War? And xylophone? Talk about the whole production shebang! Harpist Mary Lattimore also plays on Grace Cummings’ third record. 

This album’s producer Jonathan Wilson (Father John Misty, Angel Olsen, Margo Price) granted Olsen an advance listen and her reaction has been documented: “It felt like the wind of a hurricane entered the room. I remember feeling so activated and surprised by Grace’s vocal capacity that I actually felt my body brace itself against the wall.”

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Powerhouses such as Melissa Etheridge and Anastacia spring to mind; Cummings would snatch the crown in any sing-off, basically. 

During the casually cantering, piano-driven On And On, Cummings’ vocal performance goes within a hair’s breadth of yodelling. Then buoyant brass wafts through this standout track’s outro.

Another highlight, Work Today (And Tomorrow)’s sombre atmosphere evokes Neneh Cherry’s sublime Somedays. Stately piano plays a supporting role as verse one unfurls, Cummings’ delivery as raw and emotionally arresting as it gets. Strings shimmer, inconsolable. Drums swing in and out of the arrangement, always deftly treated. Pure magic.

Instrumentally, Common Man somehow captures the vibe of both Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game and Jigsaw’s Sky High. Crestfallen with a dash of bitterness, the gently strummed Without You posits, “Mona Lisa, she still smiles/ Without you…”

The title track concludes with Cummings repeating, “It’s just the time, to be Ramona,” mantra-like. So who TF is Ramona, then? In the accompanying presser, Cummings reveals she drew persona inspo from Bob Dylan’s 1964 song, To Ramona: “I didn’t want to be myself so I decided to be Ramona instead, full of intensity and melodrama.”

A Precious Thing’s oblique concept – “Love is just a thing/ That I’m trying to live without/ And oh, what a precious thing/ But it’s nothing I care about” – is crushing. Denial or acceptance? As with most of the songs on here, the listener’s lived experiences will play into how this penultimate track’s message is received. 

“In the past I’ve been caught up in worrying about whether I’m being too emotional or over-the-top,” Cummings has admitted, “but this time around I decided not to filter any of that out.” Actively resisting the urge to go back and edit vocal ‘imperfections’ served this collection extremely well.

There’s a grittiness to Cummings’ work. She certainly ain’t trying to mimic, or vie with, fellow artists. And if a musical about werewolves exists, Cummings – who’s also a professional stage actor – would own the lead role.