Grace Potter and the Nocturnals are the sensation from Vermont. The Lion The Beast The Beat, the fourth and arguably their most commercially successful album, has propelled them into a staple on top forty and rock radio. The band has achieved that all important rites of passage in garnering massive success, they now have full control over exploration of music in both sounds and expressions. This ‘rite of passage’ of course was not easily obtained, in the beginning of Potters career she toured extensively (rumoring well over 200 gigs a year), working tirelessly to achieve her goals (in fact, OurVinyl witnesses her perform at the 2010 North Coast Music Festival and hinted about their future success). Finally she was picked up by Hollywood Records giving her a major platform in distribution, production and quality of mixing. The band has released four records off that label, each one more successful than the last. Grace Potter is lead vocalist and a multi-instrumentalist, she is joined by drummer Matt Burr, and guitarist Scott Tournet, they are the founding members of the Nocturnals project. Upon their first ‘Nocturnals’ release a self-titled LP (Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, 2010) in which musically took the band in a nonstop rock and roll direction that was both direct in approach, and edgy with lyrics. This can be seen with such songs as: Paris (Ooh La La), Medicine, Only Love, and Hot Summer Night, causing many to directly compare her to other dominate leading front-women like Janis Joplin or Koko Taylor who like Potter have a commanding presence and sound.
The Lion The Beast The Beat is a clear directional change from all other productions from Potter, a move from folk, alt-country, bluegrass rock and roll, to a infused experimental sound that explores the more computerized or electronic part of the music industry. Clearly there is nothing erroneous with this method; it is an inherent right that all bands and musicians have as artists to explore different avenues of themselves both spiritually and musically, while also possessing a similar right to keep each album sounding the same. The issue that in one time or another all musicians will face is when profit wins over artistry and when albums become show pieces for a single or two. In this case Grace Potter and the Nocturnals have out done themselves, and arguably have provided an almost flawless effort into each song while their music allows each and every listener to appreciate the dollars and cents that went into the purchase as well as the manufacture of the album. Grace Potter and the lads have really put their whole heart and spirit into each song as if it could become that single, or that ultimate ‘one’ they will be remembered for.
Grace Potter & The Nocturnals’ Runaway
This album starts with a clear progression in sound moving from rock infused sensationalism, to a pop production that will please some and frustrate others; with tunes like Never Go Back, Parachute Heart, and Loneliest Soul articulating those pop aspects of the record. This album is largely a collaboration with Dan Auerbach from the Black Keys in which sees Grace Potter & the Nocturnals move into the distortion and pop infusion that everyone knows and loves from the Keys. Nevertheless, on all songs written by Potter you see fragments of that original rock and roll powerhouse amplified sound. However, there is no denying the stamp made on a number of songs by Auerbach who co-wrote and played an instrument or two on a number of songs. The Keys sound and flavor is seen throughout the record providing a sometimes refreshing deviation in concept for Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, and at other times seems hasty almost, and leaves the feeling of not quite fitting right. This mesh of sounds doesn’t mix well often; the music itself seems over layered and overbearing, sometimes being complex for the sake of. This makes the Auerbach produced songs lose their natural sound and therefore you lose much of the beauty in which the lyrics are trying to convey. The deviation in sound could also be attributed with the addition of musicians (guitarist) Benny Yurco and (bassist) Michael Libramento who wrote or added to songs on the new album.
By far the finest song on the album is the title track (The Lion the Beast the Beat) it is not only the most inclusive of both the old rock and roll sounds of their previous album it incorporates the best parts of their experimental phase and Black Keysian sounds. The riff is literally to die for (to the point where this author was playing some mean air guitar on this tune), it has all the right hooks and peaks in all the right places that just makes you feel awesome like you yourself are playing that masterful instruments. Potter provides such a superlative build up in lyrics to the pure jam, down to business musicianship of the band. When Potter bellows “I found the heart of a lion/In the belly of the beast/And I held it in my hand, and I could feel/I could feel, feel the beat,” it provides a buildup in the song that is tremendous, it sends you on a lyrical journey exploring a person’s journey through life, the possibilities of all it has to offer and the harsh but serious realities that all life will end. This can be seen in the final chorus where Potter sings “Life is a record, playing on repeat,” like a record; life consistently ends and constantly starts again…
Oddly enough, Grace Potter is originally a solo artist and started her musical journey as a bluegrass folk person from encompassing rock subgenres such as blues rock, folk rock, hard rock, and alternative rock. She has also collaborated with other artists such as Kenny Chesney country singer songwriter known for such hits as: She’s Got It All, How Forever Feels, and The Good Stuff. Honestly, the finest vocal performance on this record has to be the fourth track Stars, this where Potter is her most vulnerable, most exposed, and arguably it has a folk sound at its core. The song is earthy in its direction, with a ‘keeping it simple stupid’ attitude to it; in which by all counts makes it a better track. It doesn’t sound over done or complicated, all of which gives it even more power and presence. This song touches an emotional nerve when listening; all this can be attributed to Potters unequivocal confidence, and natural sound or tone to her voice.
Right now the world is the bands oyster, they have created albums that are musically appealing, providing that top-forty hook while also providing that fervent sound of guitar combined with that thrashing thunder in the drums that rock and roll craves and desires. There will of course be some like myself who appreciated the quality and sound of earlier albums, and enjoyed their straightforward and sheer bloody power that only rock and roll can provide. This album had many enjoyable qualities; it does leave many questions for their fan base, like will they continue on this experimental bend? Or will it remain an experiment? The band will continue to surprise and impress with their depth of musicality and quality of lyrics. Songs that popped are: The Lion the Beast the Beat, Stars, Timekeeper, Turntable, Keepsake, and The Divide.
Written by Dan Lovell
OurVinyl | Contributor