It began with the name. When a slicker, rap-infused take of Leslie Gore’s hit, “You Don’t Own Me,” (Only “It’s My Party”would outsell this multi-platinum selling recording) came on my car radio, I was quick to ask Siri for the name of this newcomer. The single meandered it’s way through 60’s pop and G-Eazy’s verses, all ushered on by this nameless singer channeling everything from an erratic Aguilera to a tall order of Winehouse Lite. Imagine my confusion when I was told the brash commander of such refurbished feminism was “Grace,” merely Grace. Not Grace Potter. Not even Grace Jones or Grace Slick. Just the unassuming Grace.
The Australian singer’s debut, FMA, is, at times, another reworked blend of 60’s girl group nostalgia. Sonically, FMA toes in line with the releases of recent British Invasion of soul chanteuses such as Winehouse, Duffy, and Adele. On “Hope You Understand,” Grace’s gritty vocals sound like a rehearsed, yet impressive imitation of Winehouse. The arrangement and melodies on the sparse piano ballad, “How to Love Me” would fit snuggly into Adele’s recent smash release, 25. Grace studied her idols well, to the point where her own presence is lost in the production and imitations.
Between a lackluster stage name and reiterating the style of her overplayed idols, it’s clear that Grace’s, well, saving grace is her versatile voice and hip-hop leanings. Driving hip-hop beats underscore a bright organ on the naughty “Church on Sunday,” while electronic pianos and pitched vocal samples make for a dreamy midtempo jam on the yearning “Say.” “Hell Of A Girl,” a bombastic ode to 60’s soul and independence, drifts smoothly along before building to Grace’s climactic ad-libbing in the whistle register. On the remixed single, “Boyfriend Jeans,” Grace takes it down a few semi-tones with a falsetto reminiscent of Leona Lewis.With its smooth, harmonized chorus of man-worship, the soul romp of “Boys Boys Boys” epitomizes the album’s theme of romances won & lost.
While the track is one of many standout tracks, it too pales in comparison with the brief, yet powerful outro of “Song Cries and Amens.” Clocking in at a measly one and a half minutes, “Song Cries and Amens” is a quasi-poetic reprieve from a tracklist devoted to summer flings and failed relationships. Instead, Grace opts for self-reflection, wavering between loathing (Sometimes I hate me. . . I’m selfish, you’re right/ I can’t be normal. I lied) and self-acceptance (“I’m lame. So what?/ I’m all right”). With a lush backdrop of pizzicato strings, muted horns, and solemn piano, the track is refreshing cut that comes too late in the album and ends to soon.
Like her older brother, Conrad Sewell (who topped the Australian charts with his single, “Start Again”), Grace is a rookie in the major label scene. Graced with a formidable voice, the younger Sewell’s future success on radio seems promising. Many listeners, however, may dismiss her as redundant if she refuses to part ways with her imitations of more established soul singers.