Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#390 in the Series) is Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
The word “Nocturnal” means “of or pertaining to the night,” a perfect moniker to describe the band of traveling gypsies known as Grace Potter & The Nocturnals. 2010 and on in to 2011 has been a very busy time for the band. In an effort to make a name, and establish their identity, they embarked on a “scorched earth” tour of America, traversing the country, delivering to the unwashed masses, their unique blend of funky blues, gritty soul, and smoldering rock. The band also made time to make all of the usual Fallon, Kimmel, Letterman, talking head stops, as well as to lend their talents to the Johnny Depp movie “Alice In Wonderland”, with a spot-on version of the Jefferson Airplane classic, “White Rabbit”. The band first came to my attention trough their twitter feed (@GracePotter), where they would post the set list for the concert that evening along with pictures of the costumes that Grace Potter (singer, guitar player, and Hammond organ player), and Catherine Popper (bass player) would be wearing for the performance that night. The set list would typically include a couple of the singles from early in their career, a heavy dose of their 2010 self-titled release “Grace Potter & The Nocturnals”, and some delicious surprises covering such classics as “Cortez the Killer” , “Paint It Black”, or a sublime version of “Gold Dust Woman”.
Clearly the swizzle stick that stirs the Nocturnal’s drink is Grace Potter herself. The Vermont native formed the band around her love for the music of the 60’s and 70’s, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Grace Slick, Stevie Nicks, and Santana, and song writers like Jackson Browne and James Taylor, along with “Soul Sisters” such as Aretha Franklin and Etta James.
For the record her top five songs as listed on GracePotter.com are:
- Fire – The Pointer Sisters
- Angel of the Morning – Merilee Rush
- These Days – Jackson Browne
- Will It Go Around In Circles – Billy Preston
- American Girl – Tom Petty
To see her, with her “pre-Grease”, Olivia Newton-John girl next door good looks, along with her Stevie Nicks, Cristina Aguilera, Joan Jett, Grace Slick, with a touch of Courtney Love, seductive stage presence, you would think her looks would overshadow her talent. You would be wrong. She is equally at home sitting at her piano or organ playing “Sweet Baby James” as she is with her flying V strapped on, crushing “Southern Man” or “Evil Ways”.
As musicians, the rest of the band can more than carry their own as well. The equally beautiful, Catherine Potter, formerly with Ryan Adams & The Cardinals, plays bass and double bass, and is Grace’s partner in crime when they are on the road. The two guitar attack of Benny Yurco and Scott Tournet fill out the band to create a sound that is “vintage”, usually very true to the original when performing cover songs, yet fresh, vibrant, and exciting at the same time.
The band independently recorded and released their first album, Nothing But Water, in 2005. Based on the strength of this release, they were picked up By Hollywood Records and released their sophomore record, This is Somewhere in 2007. With the release of This is Somewhere, the popularity of the band started to increase and rock critics were beginning to notice them for their intoxicating stage presence, tight song construction, and contemporary lyrics. Despite the song, “Apologies from this album being used on “All My Children”, and “One Tree Hill”, and the excellent “Falling or Flying”, used on ER and the Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack, mainstream success was still one album away.
In 2010 Grace Potter & The Nocturnals released the excellent self-titled album “Grace Potter & The Nocturnals”. Originally designed as a T –Bone Burnett produce vehicle, the record company wisely decided to go with Mark Batson, the Dave Matthews producer, for this break- through effort.
“You Got Me Down on the Floor……..So what Did ya bring me down here for?” are the first words we hear from the talented rock vixen on the first song of the album appropriately titled Paris (Ooh La La). If you can get past the imagery (When reviewing this album we spent twenty minutes trying to answer the question of exactly why he had had brought her down on the floor and what he was going to do when he got her there), you will hear a real rocker with some strong guitar riffs, the first series of many coos, oohs, moans, and screams you will hear throughout the album, and a sultry vocal performance that tells you all you need to know about Grace Potter. And things only get better from there. By the way, check out the video for this song. You will be glad you did.
The pace slows down nicely (thank goodness for my blood pressure) with the nest song, Oasis. This song, more than any other on the album, allows Grace to stretch her vocal chops. You hear a little Betty Lavette, Lucinda Williams, and Jenny Lewis on this slow burner.
The third song on the album, “Medicine,” was originally intended to be the title of the album. “ I got the medicine that everybody wants” is repeated in a catchy refrain wrapped around a “Soul Finger” worthy organ solo.
“Tiny Light,” the fifth song on the album was the first single released. It is a medium rocker with an adult oriented rock feel , in a Sheryl Crow kind of way. A tasteful sort of harmless tune, it shows Grace can appeal to the AOR crowd as well as the dirty blues crowd. Her marketing machine, seeking to further expand her audience, also had Grace collaborating with Kenny Chesney on the single “You and Tequila” from the Kenny Chesney release “Hemingway’s Whiskey”.
The pace of the album picks up significantly with “Only Love” Which allows Grace to strut her Tina Turner “butt strut” stuff, and shows that Grace can wail with the best of them.
“Hot Summer Night” is the third single from the album and reminds me of “Pink Cadillac” by Aretha Franklin with a similar snappy Chorus and tempo. This is a “get on your feet and dance” kind of song, and is a highlight in their live shows.
At the end of the day this album has it all, scorching hot guitar numbers, strong song writing, slow sexy ballads, strong rhythm and blues numbers, and some throwback- retro organ playing.
Listen to this album, then go back and check out their earlier catalog. Like the rest of us you will become a big fan.
On a side note, In May of 2010 Vermont specialty chocolate maker, Lake Champlain Chocolates, created a new chocolate bar named after Grace called. “Grace Under Fire”. The dark chocolate bar contains pistachios and red pepper flakes.
– Walt Falconer
- “Paris (Ooh La La)” – 3:15
- “Oasis” – 4:41
- “Medicine” – 4:06
- “Goodbye Kiss” – 3:33
- “Tiny Light” – 4:43
- “Colors” – 5:15
- “Only Love” – 3:22
- “Money” – 2:54
- “One Short Night” – 3:50
- “Low Road” – 4:39
- “That Phone” – 3:18
- “Hot Summer Night” – 3:22
- “Things I Never Needed” – 4:11
- Peggy Baldwin Cello
- Mark Batson Drum Machine, Handclapping, Piano, Producer, String Arrangements
- Matt Burr Drums, Percussion
- J’Anna Jacoby Violin
- Catherine Popper Bass
- Grace Potter Guitar, Hammond B3, Piano, Vocals
- Kathleen Robertson Violin
- Thomas Tally Viola
- Scott Tournet Guitar, Harmonica, Lap Steel Guitar, Loops, Vocals
- Benny Yurco Guitar