Saturday, October 24, 2015

When a Solo May Be a No-Go: Grace Potter

     Grace Potter recently released a solo album Midnight.  She has been the lead singer and multi-instrumentalist for Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, who’ve been around since 2002.  After a decade of touring and releasing independent records, they hit it big commercially and critically with Grace Potter and the Nocturnals (2010).  It featured two killer singles, which were “Paris (Ooh La La)” and “Oasis.”  They returned two years later with The Lion the Beast the Beat, which had “Stars,” but held together probably better as an album, rather than as a collection of singles.

Grace Potter On Her Own
     Potter was responsible for most of the songwriting and the press focused almost exclusively on her because she’s physically very attractive and she exudes a positive, almost relentless energy.  There was controversy because she changed her look from jeans to dresses, but like Sheryl Crow pointed out years ago, John Lennon changed his look constantly and that never seemed to be such a big deal.  Although Potter has been compared to Janis Joplin, Bonnie Raitt and other blue eyed blues rock singers, her most apt forebears are Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart.  VH1 shrewdly put them together for Divas Salute the Troops in late 2010.  

     The Wilson sisters, while stars, have always placed themselves within the context of a band.  That give and take musically has been a primary reason that they’ve moved between the rock, blues, and pop genres.  Grace Potter and the Nocturnals have also covered these styles.  Here’s the rub:  Potter collaborates with Eric Valentine as a songwriter and producer on this solo album, but it doesn’t possess any sense of interplay. While bands record their albums through a series of tracks in the studio, they still generate a collective energy.  This has been true for Potter’s work with the Nocturnals, but the back-up players on this album sound generic; they might as well be computer generated.  

     The songs are catchy and “Hot to the Touch,” “Your Girl,” and “Let You Go” have a late ‘70s early ‘80s rock vibe, which is attractive in a retro sense until I remembered that it was also the high point of ‘corporate rock’:  the period when most major rock-pop bands sounded almost interchangeable as they battled in the Top 40.  I felt I knew where each song was going in the first twenty seconds and found myself singing along.  Neil said everything sounded like something he’d heard before.

Grace with The Noctournals
     In conclusion, it’s a salve to Potter’s artistic ego to try something on her own, but she comes alive when she’s the front woman for a band, rather than with a solo spotlight. 

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