By ART EDELSTEIN Arts Correspondent - Published: April 30, 2010
Here's a hot stock market tip. If Hollywood Records of Burbank is selling shares, buy them … a lot if you can afford it. OK, this isn't a finance column, but on the strength of the newest Grace Potter & The Nocturnals CD "Medicine," slated for release in June, this record company should do well as this album should be a big seller.
GPN has recorded a strong album. Thirteen tracks of pure, hard-driving, very danceable rock music places this quintet at the verge of national stardom. I don't make this suggestion casually. Potter has been given the Rodeo Drive touch. With long blonde tresses and skirts that barely cover, she is now a "babe."
Every effort has been made, at least in the promotion of this album, to scale back the jam band, Vermont-bred aspects of its Waitsfield origins. Potter's Nocturnals have also been reconfigured. There are two new members – Catherine Popper, also an attractive woman, replaces original bassist Bryan Dondero, and Benny Yurco has signed on as rhythm guitarist. Popper will sing harmony at concerts which means Potter's own back-up vocals on recordings can now be duplicated on stage.
Potter, now under the production guidance of Mark Batson who produced the Dave Matthews Band, shared songwriting with the producer. I'm not sure if Batson contributed lyrics, but the musical influence on these songs is fairly obvious. This is an album that zings with rock 'n' roll energy. Potter's singing is invigorated, and she appears to have channeled her inner Grace Slick, Bonnie Raitt, Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin, along with generous helpings of Beyoncé and Alicia Keys.
Potter's vocals hold little back. It must be all the healthy air in the Mad River Valley, for she belts out song after song without ripping away her vocal chords. If Potter is trying to show the world that she is as dynamic a singer as the aforementioned women, she is close to accomplishing that goal. Perhaps the only problem is that she hasn't established exactly what her own voice is.
Hollywood Records, also home to Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers, is priming GPN for bigger stages than the band has played in the past. While the band isn't yet up to headline status like Phish was in its prime, the songs on this new album would certainly impress any audience.
Beyond Potter's powerful singing is a reinvigorated band. The Nocturnals were a good band when they were a trio backing Potter's keyboard and guitar work. Popper and Burr seem to click as the rhythm section, but what really has changed the band's sound is the interplay of Yurco and lead guitarist Scott Tournet. With a strong rhythm guitar to work off, Tournet is set free to explore the fretboard and the sonic possibilities of his electric guitar. He now delivers some blistering leads which add another layer of sound. Unfortunately, Potter's keyboard playing now takes a subordinate role on most of the tracks.
Many of the lyrics on this CD explore themes of relationship and sex. Potter is the good girl and the bad girl. She's tough, she's vulnerable, etc. Track six, "Colors," was written, she has said in interviews, the day after the 2008 election of Barack Obama as president. We wouldn't expect a band, whose lead singer has had a high-class makeover, to be crooning about collateralized debt obligations or Greece's near bankruptcy. This is music meant to get the body juices flowing and the unjaded out on the dance floor while selling lots of beer to the audience. I suspect when this album does hit the street and people put it in the car CD player there'll be a lot less texting going on as people's interest will be directed at Potter and her music instead of their cell phones.
New England Tour Dates Include:
Port City Music Hall, Portland ME , BUY Tickets May 27
House of Blues Boston, MA Buy Tickets May 28 with Anais Mitchell
Lebanon Opera House Lebanon NH Buy Tickets May 29 A Benefit for Child and Family Services of NH
Burlington Waterfront, Burlington VT August 14 Buy Tickets
Photos by Nanci photos of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals may be viewed at: http://www.photosbynanci.com/gracepotter.html