Grace Potter & the Nocturnals: Grace Potter & the Nocturnals

RIYL: Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Ryan Adams & the Cardinals

This is technically the band’s fourth studio album, but the eponymous release marks a new era for the group. Former bassist Bryan Dondero has been replaced with Catherine Popper (formerly with Ryan Adams & the Cardinals), and this change has created a new synergy for the band. Popper helps balance the gender dynamic with her harmony vocals and she drives the songs higher with her superior jam skills on the bass. Rhythm guitarist Benny Yurco has also been added to the lineup, helping lead guitarist Scott Tournet, drummer Matt Burr and keyboardist/guitarist Potter to embiggen their sound, as they’d say on “The Simpsons.”

The album is a showcase for Potter’s dynamic vocals and melodic rock style, but it also feels like a coming-out party for what in hindsight will probably be viewed as the band’s classic lineup. Potter has her mojo working from the start in “Paris (Ooh La La),” a high-energy sexual rocker. “Oasis” comes down a notch, but then builds back up as Potter’s voice and Popper’s bass seem to sync in with each other. “Medicine” cranks it back up with a another blast of down and dirty groove rock where Potter sings about a mesmerizing gypsy type of woman not unlike herself.

Lead single “Tiny Light” shows off the new lineup at its best. The overall sound conjures visions of Rumors-era Fleetwood Mac, before blasting into the stratosphere with a big jam driven by Popper’s dynamic bass line. The song also features some of Potter’s best lyrics, which acknowledge the chaos of the early 21st century but ultimately lead to an uplifting catharsis. The song also gives a snapshot of the band’s live power with the jam at the end, where Tournet rips a sonic blast of lead guitar and Potter belts it out to the extreme. Potter’s softer side shines on piano-driven ballad “Colors,” where her delicate vocals dedicated to the twilight time of day are sure to melt hearts. “Only Love” provides a another high-energy blast of skillfully layered blues rock, a sound that is the band’s bread and butter.

The second half of the album isn’t quite as strong as far as memorable songs, although the band’s sound remains vibrant. “One Short Night” is a catchy number with a funky flavor about a questionable night out, while “Low Road” explores a bluesier territory with Potter still shining on vocals. “Hot Summer Night” is another sexy rocker similar to “Medicine” and “Only Love.” It would be nice to see Potter explore a wider variety of sonic flavors, but there’s no doubt this is one she’s very good at. “Things I Never Needed” closes out the album with a contemplative and endearing ballad. The first half of the album gets four stars, but the second half gets only three, so that’s three-and-a-half overall. This is a very good album, but the next one should be a true classic.

The band’s five-star live show is where they shine the brightest. When Potter & the Nocturnals played at Austin’s SXSW Festival in March, they highlighted the new material and knocked it out of the park with high-energy, jam-heavy performances in both an evening headliner show and a day-party performance. The band was good in 2008, but this version is at a higher level. Whoever orchestrated Popper’s entry into the band on bass should win rock ‘n’ roll’s “general manager of the year” award for the transaction. (Hollywood Records 2010)

Grace Potter & the Nocturnals MySpace page


SXSW Music 2010, Day 3: Heavy Hitters

It was another day of highlights, many of them provided by female rockers who are out in force at SXSW 2010, which is great to see. But the day started with a great panel featuring Robbie Krieger of the Doors (fresh off his electrifying sit-in with Stone Temple Pilots the previous night). “When You’re Strange” featured Krieger and the current Doors manager discussing the upcoming feature-length documentary on the band that sounds like it will be amazing, with direction from Tom DiCillo and narration from the great Johnny Depp.

Over at the Belmont on West 6th Street, things were running behind schedule at the Paste/Sugar Hill Records/Vanguard Records day party, which enabled me to discover Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles. This bluesy gal looks like a cross between Sarah Silverman and Amy Winehouse, but she rocks! I liked her set better than that of the Watson Twins, the act I went to see. These girls are fab, but their new album is just plain disappointing compared to their great first album. The ladies still sound great, but the new tunes just don’t have the rich, melodic hooks of their debut, Fire Songs.

I caught up with Sass Jordan at the Canadian Blast party at Paradise on East 6th Street, where free enchiladas with rice and beans were served. She only had two acoustic guitarists with her instead of a whole band, but she sounded fabulous on strong material from her new album as well as her early ’90s hits “Make You a Believer ” and “High Road Easy.”

Then it was around the corner to Rusty Spurs, where Grace Potter & the Nocturnals followed up their stellar Thursday night set at Antone’s with another powerhouse set that rocked a packed crowd. Bassist Catherine Popper continued to show why she should win an award for best new addition to a band, while Potter won over a number of new fans with her sultry blues power.

Then it was over to Stubbs BBQ, where Metric warmed up the stage for semi-secret headliners Muse before a jammed house. The power-pop rockers threw down a heartfelt and well-received set that showed they can deliver the goods live. Muse then hit the stage at 10 pm and rocked the house in a triumphant set that was worthy of filling the slot occupied last year by Metallica. The Brit prog-rockers demonstrated a Metallica influence that they mixed up with Radiohead, Queen and Smashing Pumpkins for a sound that was intense. The laser light show was also spectacular, an arena rock spectacle in an intimate setting.

San Antonio’s Girl in a Coma were rocking it at Buffalo Billiards in the 11 pm hour, highlighted by a guest sit-in from none other than Cherie Currie of the Runaways for a charged rendition of “Cherry Bomb” that thrilled the assembled. Guitarist/singer Nina Diaz has a presence that just owned the room and this Tex-Mex grunge trio showed that they are just getting better and better.

There were many options in the midnight hour and 1:00 hours, but I passed on the easy path and fought my way into the Dirty Dog Bar for Hole’s late night set. It’s amazing that the fire marshal didn’t come and shut it down, this little bar was jammed well over capacity. The likes of Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey made the scene, watching from the side of the stage. It was a claustrophobic clusterfuck until about 20 minutes into the set, when some people gave up and elbow room was finally achieved. The band rocked but Courtney Love’s voice was shot, which she blamed on playing so late when she’s a chain smoker. Maybe it’s time to cut back on the smokes, doll. She chastised her guitarist for playing too loud, and at the end she said it was her worst show ever. But tunes like “Malibu,” “Doll Parts,” “Gold Dust Woman” and some of the new stuff sounded strong. Someone just needs to take better care of herself, but it looks like that’s not going to happen.

Rain threatens Day Four on Saturday, so it will be interesting to see how the masses respond as the outdoor shows could become less attractive…