Riding the tremendous success of her debut single, a modern interpretation of the Lesley Gore classic You Don’t Own Me, young Australian songstress Grace has released her debut EP Memo. Citing her biggest influences as soul legends Minnie Riperton and Gladys Knight, as well as modern-day sirens Lauryn Hill and Amy Winehouse, it’s no surprise that Grace’s own musical vision centres on a soulful sound and dynamic, raw vocals that navigate a space between retro charm and contemporary relevance.
Opener Dirty Harry immediately indulges in a magnetic bravado that perfectly embodies 18-year-old attitude. Featuring a layered, organic brass sample threaded with spare, bass-heavy contemporary production Dirty Harry traverses a push and pull that is also lyrically reflected as Grace interrupts a narrative of adolescent exploits with more old-fashioned counsel: “Don’t speak your mind be a good girl baby, mama told me tie ya hair back all the way. I’d rather be reckless too young and dumb…” Feel Your Love continues this horn-heavy trend. At once an earnest ballad and blissed-out dance-floor filler, Grace’s R&B-kissed vocals simultaneously navigate two worlds.
Produced by the original track’s legendary producer Quincy Jones, You Don’t Own Me brings Lesley Gore’s “indelibly defiant” protofeminist anthem to the present with additional verses by LA rapper G-Eazy. Grace’s dynamic delivery preserves Gore’s audacity in an era that is still grappling with women’s sexual freedom and providing a feminist voice for groups of who were forgotten and excluded by early waves of the feminist movement. Grace’s powerhouse voice continues to shine on The Honey, a track that offers a multitude of vocal gifts including an unexpected rapping ability, a remarkably developed whistle register, as well as those impossibly smooth, soul-inspired melodies. Trap-influenced production, combined with gospel-informed backing vocals and moments of Motown ensemble work continues to generate a distinct aesthetic that seamlessly treads the line between retro and revamped.
While some will question producers’ and musicians’ persistent need to make established and successful genres “relevant”, Grace’s invasion of radio stations and Australian television is testimony to the, at least momentary, effectiveness of such adaptation. Whether Grace’s infectious tunes and alluring swagger are merely the music of the moment, or will be immortalised like the work of her idols remains to be seen.