Tuesday, January 14, 2014
State of Grace
We might as well get this out of the way first: Grace Potter is a stone cold fox. Of course, you can’t tell that from any of her studio tracks. All you can really gather is that she can absolutely shred a B3 organ and she’s got an easy singing style that can jump from embers to inferno at a moment’s notice. And that’s more than enough.
The first track off Nothing But the Water, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals’* debut album, is understated and self-assured. “Toothbrush and My Table” doesn’t rush and doesn’t devolve into hysterics; it asks with full confidence that it will receive. The rest of the album continues in the same vein with cool, focused songs that are solid, but lack flash. Tracks like “All But One” and “Ragged Company” go to work every day and lay the brick with resolve. It’s nothing fancy, but as Will Hunting would argue, there’s honor in that. Not to mention it makes for some damn good music.
*Great band name btw.
This Is Somewhere continues in the same direction, but takes a few more stabs at expanding GPN’s sound. Tracks like “Ah Mary,” “Stop the Bus,” and “Ain’t No Time” see the group kick things up a notch, mostly with success. But the real gems remain the ballads where Grace and her organ barely cut through the cigarette smoke, whiskey, and regret. The closer, “Big White Gate,” is simple, soaring, and the best song in their catalog.
GPN’s next two albums take the trend of Somewhere to an even greater extreme. The jams shrink, the production sobers up, and the smoke clears. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and The Lion The Beast The Beat have certainly propelled the group up the ladder – Beat peaked at #17 on the US Billboard charts – but even on these collections their finest works remain those that evoke the promise of Water. “One Short Night,” “Goodbye Kiss,” and “Low Road” – if only for Potter’s pipes at the two-thirds mark* – are all worth a spin, even if the rest of Grace and Beat are too polished for the bands’ own good.
*But you really should listen to the whole thing.
If this and my old piece on Dire Straits hasn’t already made it abundantly clear, I think a good organ is capable of raining down fire and brimstone on an unsuspecting audience any given night. And GPN is at its best while leading an unabashed tent revival. While I admire the band’s effort to broaden and grow its sound, I’m afraid it’s been mostly in the wrong direction. Water and Somewhere are a pretty clear indication that GPN has hippie – not pop – at its heart and covers like “Mystery Train,” “Fiend of the Devil,” or “Elvis Presley Blues” only confirm that. When they’re on form, wailing, and jamming, GPN is certainly the top of the mountain; if I have my way, I ain’t never coming down.