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MEDIA: Reviews: Nothing to Be Frightened Of

by Spaz Schnee - Discussions Magazine, 17 August 2014

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.

4 stars

by Noel Mengel -, 22 August 2014

Sometimes it feels like we are drowning in clutter: objects, ideas, threads, distractions. Pop music is too, layered, tailored, highly polished. Cummings’ 20th or so solo album goes the other way, as spare and crisp as a Hemingway paragraph. Recording engineer Shane O’Mara plays electric guitar, unfussy drums, a few whisps of organ. Cummings writes the songs and sings them. And that’s enough. In other treatments, these might have been feisty rock ’n’ roll songs, or soul songs. Honeybee takes on the blues form. First In Line could have been a Sam Cooke song from ’63, with a sweet O’Mara solo that, like the material, says much with a little. It’s the only solo anywhere here. Cummings is in great voice; there is an elemental kind of force to it that is different to being merely technically powerful with some big notes to impress the judges. Van Morrison and Eric Burdon have that force too. Cummings pours it into these songs of hurt and loss. The title tune is a meditation on the artist’s life where he wonders “How many times has the light gone out?’’ Not dark yet at the Cummings house, I am pleased to report.

3 stars

by Brad Norington - The Australian, 6 September 2014

Stripped-down rhythm and blues has a lot to recommend it, especially in capable hands. Simplicity would appear to be the mantra of Stephen Cummings for this album, his latest in a string of 20-plus solo recordings since his days as frontman for the Sports. It starts well with Love is a Hurting Thing, a catchy, evocative song that perfectly matches Cummings’s voice to a lone guitar and a subtle organ. Alas, the recording is sometimes a hurting thing from here on.

There are great moments when Cummings is at his best. His voice is as good as the old days, and the rich, jangly, guitar chords from Shane O’Mara are the perfect accompaniment. It’s also O’Mara providing drums, keyboards and the recording facility at his Yikesville home studio in Victoria’s Yarraville. But, as Peggy Lee would say, is that all there is? Despite the merits of minimalism, the second track, Not Over You, leaves this listener asking if there was a world lyric shortage.

That’s the feeling about Nothing to be Frightened Of: it becomes a little too repetitive. Cummings’s affected phrasing, as good as it may sound for diehard fans, is more Jagger-esque as the recording rolls on. The title track is excellent, albeit in a loose, Mick Jagger style. First in Line could be a bluesy, modern reprise of a track from Exile on Main Street. Lover Please seems a repeat of the earlier Not Over You. A Joy to Sit Alone is what it suggests, an existentialist celebration , while Honeybee is BB King reverb heaven. Fans of Cummings will love his latest offering, while others may wonder.

3.5 stars

by Steve Bell -, 9 September 2014

Bashed out with long-term cohort Shane O’Mara at the helm in one quick burst with little in the way of embellishment, Nothing To Be Frightened Of finds inveterate singer-songwriter Stephen Cummings at his most stripped-back and vulnerable. His already expressive vocals seem to gain more character with age, but it’s his craftsmanship that shines. The album is routinely strong but tracks like Love Is A Hurting Thing, Mr Misery and the title track sit proudly alongside anything he’s penned during his illustrious career.

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