In 2010 a cover version of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” first brought Grace Potter & The Nocturnals and their self-titled fourth studio album (also released that year) to my attention.
The band was formed in 2003 by singer / multi-instrumentalist Potter, guitarist Scott Tournet and drummer Matt Burr. Debut album “Original Soul” was released in 2004, 2005 heralded second album “Nothing But The Water” and “This Is Somewhere” followed two years later.
Fifth album, “The Lion The Beast The Beat” (2012), saw the band’s music take a more commercial direction, less rootsy, and took a while for me to appreciate in relation to the previous records, especially that brilliant third album.
Potter and the Nocturnals built a solid reputation for their live shows, with plenty of enthusiasm and energy on display and Potter’s voice really coming to life. With her solo band she recently opened for the Rolling Stones and was able to duet on “Gimme Shelter” with Mick Jagger at one of those gigs in June.
Now Potter has released a solo album called “Midnight” – apparently so named because that is when she was born. Without the Nocturnals to back her up the majority of the musical instrumentation on the album was supplied by Potter and producer Eric Valentine with drums and percussion from Nocturnal bandmate Burr (who is also Potter’s husband). Other Nocturnals make contributions too – Tournet and Benny Yurco provide some guitar work Michael Libramento some bass guitar.
Already this record has divided opinion massively within her existing fan base. This is undoubtedly a far more pop sounding record than anything she has done in the past and bears little resemblance to her early work with the Nocturnals.
But then Potter has been quoted as saying “…the bands and artists that captivate me are the ones who are always pushing it, always taking risks. A great musician can shine in any genre. I refuse to make the same kind of record over and over—that’s not how art works for me. The worst thing an artist can do is what is expected of them.”
On first listen I wasn’t particularly impressed – probably for similar reasons to many who have been vocal in their dislike for Potter’s new direction. However, having given it repeated spins I can say that this is actually a very good record.
The vocals are excellent, as always, more restrained in places but still let loose in others, the melodies are very catchy and the musical style changes throughout the album which I think helps keep the listener interested.
Lead single “Alive Tonight” are “Delirious” are probably the most modern pop sounding songs here, whilst “Look What We’ve Become”, “Biggest Fan”, “Instigators” and “Your Girl” have a slightly harder edge. Closing track “Let You Go” is a piano-led ballad.
Listening through Potter’s work from “Original Soul” through to “The Lion The Beast The Beat” her evolution is quite clear to hear, and in truth “Midnight” continues that. Ultimately, whether you like this or not I think it’s good when an artist follows their heart musically rather than churning out similar sounding albums for fear of upsetting fans and losing sales.
Granted that approach doesn’t always make for consistently good music (see Metallica’s “St. Anger” and their collaboration with Lou Reed on “Lulu” for evidence of that!) but in the case of Potter she is, to my ears, managing to make the transition and still remain as entertaining and appealing as ever. A warmly recommended pop / rock album…“Midnight” tracklist:
1. Hot To The Touch / 2. Alive Tonight / 3. Your Girl / 4. Empty Heart / 5. The Miner / 6. Delirious / 7. Look What We’ve Become / 8. Instigators / 9. Biggest Fan / 10. Low / 11. Nobody’s Born With A Broken Heart / 12. Let You Go