In April of 2010, Rolling Stone magazine declared Grace Potter and the Nocturnals the best jam band of 2010. With its eponymous CD, its second for Hollywood Records, the quintet aims to put that genre classification in the rearview mirror.
Sure, the band honed its reputation in the time honored jam-band tradition of tour, tour, tour and then tour some more. As such, it became a defacto must-have band on most festival line-ups though 2009, which put them in front of legions of new fans. Now the hard-charging blues-rock bombast and polished production of hit producer Mark Batson, (India Arie, Dave Mathews Band, Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, Maroon 5) takes direct aim at the top of the charts.
Fans familiar with the band’s previous releases should brace themselves for the opening salvo of “Paris (Ooh La La)”, originally released as an ITunes-only bonus cut on This Is Somewhere, re-recorded here and one of six co-writes with Batson. Opening with a risqué grunt and dueling wailing guitars, the song is pure sexual bravado. Thundering rhythm and percussion and charged electric guitars underline the licentious current in the chorus: “If I was from Paris, I would say Oooh la la la la la la.”
“Medicine” is another sultry rocker that deals with sexual bravado. The song begins with a groovy, resonating drum roll and then builds to its dramatic crescendo. With Potter having been in a relationship with drummer Matt Burr since the two met at St. Lawrence University, one might conclude at least a hint of truth in the story of a voodoo woman, with dark brown eyes and long black hair shaking her hips and enticing all the men to follow her down. But alas, the song’s protagonist has a plan to get her man back at the song’s bridge: “I stole her bag of rattling bones / her fast-luck oil and her magic stones / I swept up her magnetic sand / I took her love potion and her mojo hand / now I got the medicine that everybody wants”. Potter also addresses a couple’s relationship on “One Short Night”, a jaunty tale of infidelity which only served to further her love for him. Potter pounds on the piano on the raunchy rocker “Hot Summer Night.”
There is much more than hard-driving rockers and sexual bravado to Grace Potter & the Nocturnals. “Oasis” is a sultry, steamy ode to perseverance. “Tiny Light” radiates on the same glow lyrically, featuring Potter on B-3 organ with her strongest singing of the album. “Low Road” is an aching blues ballad with Potter laying down a plaintive piano melody under lines about finding a friend to get one through life’s lowest points.
”Colors” is an ambiguous political piano ballad written at the time of President Obama’s election. It nods to Potter’s folk roots and specifically Woody Guthrie lyrically: “I don’t want to build a wall / or draw a line across the sand / because there’s room for one and all / and this land is our land.” Potter’s swirling B-3 organ and soulful, gospel inflection drench “That Phone” in thick, Memphis mud. She intones that she won’t pick up the call from her man who’s been moving in the wrong direction for so long. Though it’s the biggest stretch for Potter and the Nocturnals, the closing country lament “Things I Never Needed”, featuring weepy steel guitar and achy, tear in your beer lyrics, could easily be a crossover hit on mainstream country radio.
When original Nocturnals’ bassist Bryan Dondero and Potter came to terms with their philosophical differences on the direction the band was moving, Dondero left on amicable terms. The addition of bassist Catherine Popper and guitarist Benny Yurco has revitalized the band, and brought a denser, fuller rock sound, something the band has been slowly moving towards since its inception. That’s the sound of Grace Potter & The Nocturnals. While not as gloriously soulful as Original Soul or Nothing But The Water, it’s an influential rock album that could and should lead to mainstream success for the New England group.