She's Got the Medicine that Everybody Wants: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, the band's self-titled release jumps off a cliff with its opening track, Paris (Ooh La La), a remake of the hidden track If I Was from Paris from their prior album, This Is Somewhere. At least, that's what it feels like - a rush of adrenalin followed by fun beat that gets one moving to the song. With their fourth album, the Nocturnals have undergone some changes. Last year, the band lost its original bassist, Bryan Dondero over some creative differences, which in turn allowed the band to bring bass player Catherine Popper, as well as rhythm guitarist Benny Yurco.

With the new lineup comes a new sound for the Nocturnals. While this isn't something that's really unexpected (Original Soul and Nothing But The Water differed a bit, while This Is Somewhere also pulled away from their sound for a more mainstream classic rock sound and feel), it's by far the bigger departure for the group, sound wise. The guitar work is far bolder throughout the album, the lyrics more evocative and overall, this effort feels far more personal and intimate; Goodbye Kiss hits the listener right to the core, much like Apologies did in her last album. Most of the songs on the album really work well with the lyrics, coming out of the speakers with a nice, easy flow, songs like Oasis, Medicine and One Short Night.

Moreover, where her last album felt like a classic rock homage, this one veers into a new direction, inserting funk and soul into the album once again. Hot Summer Night exemplifies this sound excellently, as does That Phone, Oasis and Goodnight Kiss, which gives the album and band a bit of new flavor, which has been seen in some of their reworking of their older songs in recent concerts. There are some anomalies here though: Tiny Light feels free and light, with a real '70s feel, while Things I Never Needed feels a bit like a country ballad. Paris (Ooh La La) is in a class of its own, but then again, it's always been.

Like her last album, there is a good mix between the tone and feel of the album between songs - Paris starts off with a rush of energy, followed by Oasis and Medicine, but songs like Tiny Light and Colors draw the lights down for a closer, slower and more personal feel. This variety and range of sound is a trademark of the Nocturnals, especially at their concerts: They can jump, very easily from slow to fast, bringing out a wall of sound and rhythm. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals is a further effort towards this image, and it does so wonderfully.

The strongest part of the album, and the band's music in general, has long been with their lead singer, the wonderful Grace Potter. Surrounded by the new sounds, musicians and songs, her voice is the one thing that really carries the band along, along with her fantastic lyrics. This album contains a number of gems from the group, which both highlight her songwriting and vocal talents: Oasis, Medicine, Tiny Light, Only Love, One Short Night, That Phone and Hot Summer Night, all fantastic songs that fit well within the growing catalog of songs that the band has been producing steadily over the past couple of years. While the sound feels different, Potter is the connecting point between albums, and while I focus on her voice and lyrics, a lot of the differences fall away between her old and newer songs.

What Grace Potter and the Nocturnals does for the band, however, is give them an incredible amount of face time with a sound that fits very well with the mainstream rock and roll scene, but there's just enough color and texture to the songs that they produce to push them over the top of quality. Where her last album was the breakthrough into the popular markets, this album feels like they've regained some of their footing and are beginning to push back with their own sound, which makes this album extra special. While I really loved This Is Somewhere and still constantly listen to it, it felt like there was something missing at points – looking back, it felt as though the band was reaching for something, and found a good compromise. Listening to this album though, it feels much like the color has flooded back into the room, and the sound's been turned up as high as it'll go. The Nocturnals have found what they’ve been looking for.

At the end of the day, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals is simply a stunning album from a stunning band. Not content to recycle their prior successes, the band has once again reinvented themselves to attain a better, brighter and richer sound throughout their new album, with songs that are truly inspiring, interesting and most importantly, fun to listen to. It’s clear that they’re on the upwards path, but this new lineup shows that the group is maturing, and they’re bringing out a whole new sound that will really make heads turn.

Grace Potter and the New Year

Where the rest of the world has New York City's epic ball drop in Times Square, Vermont has Grace Potter to ring in the new year. It's rapidly becoming an annual event, with several lead-up concerts at the Higher Ground to meet demand, and the overall event has become a highly anticipated run of concerts. I wasn't able to attend the New Year's Eve show, but I was able to attend the second concert on the 27th, with Alberta Cross opening up for the Nocturnals. All in all, I came away from the show pretty disappointed. The Nocturnals sounded great, played a number of newer songs, several covers and re-arranged songs and a bunch of old classics.

The group has been a popular one here on Carry You Away, and I've followed their rather extraordinary rise from small, local group to major-record-label one, and it's been a fun ride to watch. Their last album, This Is Somewhere, was absolutely fantastic, blending modern and classic rock, fantastic songwriting and with an incredible energy throughout their album and their live shows.

This show wasn't bad, it just wasn't what I expected, and it wasn't as good as other shows that I've seen from them. Part of this, I think, is because it was the lead-up to the really good show: New Year's Eve. With additional concerts added on, I have to imagine that the show was a bit toned down (even then, the energy was high), and that some of the really good material was saved for later.

The show that I saw, while good, was scattered. With a new album coming out later this year (from what I know, it's called Medicine), and with a new lineup, changes are to be expected, and some of the results were here - the band is certainly straying into more directions musically, which is very good, but with this concert, the group felt all over the map, from Classic Rock to Jam Band Raegge to Soul and regular rock. I'm interested to hear where they go, but the overall concert felt incoherent, poorly planned out and overall, that affected the entire evening for me. Music such as this is far more than just the musicians - it's their presentation, the quality of their music, how they play it, and how well thought out each concert is.

This leads me to two of Grace's opening acts, Alberta Cross and Josh Ritter, whom I've seen both open for the Nocturnals, and a good example of presentation. Alberta Cross, opening for Grace became a band that I'd rather not see again. I have their latest album, The Thief and the Heartbreaker, and I've liked a couple of the songs, but live, in person, the band seemed lax, sloppy at points and just not all that exciting to watch. On the other hand, when I was Josh Ritter in 2007, and recently again in 2009, they presented a far different appearance - they coordinated dress (and actually didn't go for the grungy rock star look), played a great set of music and clearly looked like they enjoyed themselves and put a bit of thought into what they were doing. This wasn't something that I got a good sense of with Alberta Cross, I'm sorry to say.

Similarly, I have to wonder if this was sort of the same deal with the Nocturnals, coupled with their rapid rise to local and national fame, and leaves me a bit worried for the future of the group. In 2009, the band's bassist Bryan Dondero left the group over creativity issues, leading the band to add on a new bass player Catherine Popper, as well as rhythm guitarist Benny Yurco- with new directions in mind. This sparked some worries that the group is going to be departing far more from what they've done before as they've become a major label band. Fortunately, the concert on the 27th, despite some of the issues that I had with it, seem to show that the group is still churning out good music, abit with a much larger variety of sound.

To be very fair, after listening to the NYE show, there were some improvements over the Saturday show - they were still a bit scattered, but sounded better, with much more energy and with a lot of good material to play. Here's to hoping that they will continue that trend in 2010.

Bryan Dondero to Depart the Nocturnals

According to Vermont's largest daily newspaper, Bassist Bryan Dondero is departing from the popular VT band, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, raising some issues that he had with the band and their creative direction. The recent move has forced the band to cancel several shows (Revolution Hall in Troy, NY on March 25th; The 8x10 in Baltimore, MD on March 26th; and Mr. Small's in Millvale, PA on March 27th) that were coming at the end of the month, although there is no word as to whether the band will continue at Bonnaroo.
The article cited Dondero's displeasure with the band's move to a major record label in 2007 for their fantastic album This Is Somewhere, which marked a noted change from funk-soul in the band's style to something more along the likes of classic rock. In the article, he stated: "I was always a little skeptical, they’re owned by Disney." He then goes on to note that he and Potter disagreed on several points, and that he felt that he was going to be asked to leave the band.
This is a bit surprising, at least to me. I've been a huge fan of the Nocturnals since I started listening to them several years ago, and being from the same place, and indeed, attending the same high school as Grace, it's been absolutely fantastic to see the band grab so much attention as they have in the past couple of years. The group has largely been seen to have been a great creative force, and it's unclear as to how this will affect the band, especially as they are working on their next major record label album.
This also brings up the argument about indie vs. major label records. Obviously, there is far more creative control when it comes to an independant record, as the band found with their first two albums, which gained them quite a bit of notice around the state, and only with the major record, were they able to gain even more attention on a nation-wide level, especialy with appearances on Jay Leno, Grey's Anatomy and One Tree Hill.
That being said, Potter's latest single, I Want Something I Want is a huge departure from her normal style, and even I've been a little disapointed with the stylistic change here - it's an incredibly shallow and pop-ish song, far below what we've come to expect from her. It's not a bad song alone, but within the context of what we've heard before, it doesn't come close. However, the Nocturnals are on the rise, and it should come to no surprise that they will have to sacrifice some style and independance for the attention. While it's not a good situation, they can do far more later on, as well as with their live shows, which are incredibly energetic and exciting to watch.
I really hope that the Nocturnals will find another bassist in the near future, so that they can continue to play around the area, as well as complete their new album, but I hope that they won't forget their Vermont roots and where they came from, because that would be an enormous amount of talent that would be squandered with the regular, consumer level music. The Nocturnals are much better than that. I also hope that this doesn't spell any more problems for the band, because I'll be very, very sad if they break apart.
(Originally posted to Carry You Away) Image from Flickr

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals - Concert 2

Grace Potter kicked off her tour after the release of her latest album, This Is Somewhere, with a concert at the Waterfront Park in Burlington Vermont to a nearly packed venue. Their opening band, Josh Ritter, wasn't bad, but he was somewhat forgettable after last night's performance, athough he is worth looking into for a decent band. I went with my brother, whom we abandoned, and a friend who's just returned from Greece. I got a couple of tickets for two of our neighbors, but I wasn't able to find them anywhere.

This was my second time seeing the Nocturnals, and this performance topped their one a couple weeks ago at Club Metronome. For starters, they were in the open air, which helped Grace's sound by a tenfold. She no longer sounded as high and poppish as she did last time, this time, they had proper speakers, so there was no problems there. They launched into a fantastic set that included several songs from their prior album, Nothing But The Water, as well as a couple of ones that they've performed live before, such as Belledonna and Watching You. They also included a six or seven minute drum solo, with the entire band playing around the drumset before the end.

Like before, they had an incredible amount of energy and used it well. This set seemed to include a couple more faster songs than last time, and didn't seem to drag on as long, and with a much larger crowd, they seemed to feed off of the energy a bit more than they did last time.

Set List:
Ah Mary Treat Me Right Stop the Bus Here's To The Meantime Belledonna Apoligies (MP3) Lose Some Time (John-Something Cover w/ Josh Ritter) Falling Or Flying Mastermind I've Been Watching You (Unknown - Girls) Joey If I Was From Paris Drum Solo - 4-Way Nothing But The Water (1) Nothing But The Water (2) Cortez, The Killer Big White Gate
More pictures from the event: Here