For five years, Grace Potter & Nocturnals have been hammering it out on stages large and small, playing 200 shows a year, and impressing audiences in the U.S. They've recorded two previous albums --2005's rightfully acclaimed Nothing But the Water, and their Hollywood Records debut This Is Somewhere. The sophomore effort failed musically; its ...
For five years, Grace Potter & Nocturnals have been hammering it out on stages large and small, playing 200 shows a year, and impressing audiences in the U.S. They've recorded two previous albums --2005's rightfully acclaimed Nothing But the Water, and their Hollywood Records debut This Is Somewhere. The sophomore effort failed musically; its songs were unfocused and sloppy, and its production lethargic. Three years later, with two new bandmembers in bassist Catherine Popper and rhythm guitarist Benny Turco, and the aid of super producer Mark Batson (Jay-Z, Snoop Dog, Beyoncé, Alicia Keys), the Nocturnals sound like a band reinvigorated. This self-titled set is very polished -- from cover photo to last note, it's designed to scale the Billboard charts -- yet it offers a representative showcase of the band's strengths. And while it doesn't come off as spontaneously as their live gigs, it's not supposed to. The glammed-up Nocturnals are still a tough, few-frills rock band, and despite his pedigree, Batson -- who co-wrote six of 13 songs with Potter here -- gets that. "Paris" kicks off the set. It's introduced by a mean grunt from Potter and a twin guitar blast. With Scott Tournett's lead guitar slicing through Matt Burr's drums, and Popper's funky bassline, the singer -- with power and pitch -- lays down the brazen lyric: "If I was a man, I'd make my move/If I was a blade I'd shave you smooth . . . " On "Medicine," another rocker, Potter stakes claim to her man though she's competing with a mysterious seductress. The riff and refrain are instantly memorable. The dual guitar leads are balanced by her B-3, and the tune's bluesy feel is seductive. "Hot Summer Night" is a nasty roots jam with Potter beating the hell out of an upright piano over trashy guitars and handclaps à la the Faces. The ballads are a more mixed bag. "Low Road," influenced deeply by Memphis soul, puts Potter's stellar voice and the meld of B-3, guitars, and rhythm section inside the bellybone of the listener, and it's sexy as hell. That said, "Colors," and "Things I Never Needed" are both overly long and indulgent; and the reggae-tinged "Tiny Lights" feels contrived. The midtempo numbers -- the soul-drenched "That Phone" and the blazing "Only Love," with its infectious bassline and distorted guitars -- work to fine effect. In sum, this the most representative outing from Grace Potter & the Nocturnals to date, and displays, however slickly, a heady quotient of strut, crackle, and groove. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi