Friday, July 9, 2010

Saving Grace

Bassist Catherine Popper

Summer is a funny season for me. Sure, I'm glad for the respite from teaching, but I find it difficult to settle into a comfortable routine. Then there's the heat. It exacts a toll on me as the day proceeds. All the air is pulled out of my spiritual balloon. One solution is to take a swim. Another is to retreat to an air-conditioned environment. (How delicious those movie matinees are!) Another key strategy for me is to have a record that I can put on that is so energetic that my spirits are lifted instantly. Each summer almost miraculously I stumble across such a work.

Now I know that I could make a science of it. I could click on all the links that NPR Music gives me and find a rockin' new artist. But I bristle against having someone do the work for me. I take pride in serendipidity, and the sense that what I'm listening to is really a discovery for me. I took the chance, flying blind on some recommendation buried in my mind that flipped forward in my head as I held the CD in my hand at FYE.

Yep, holding a CD at a music store. Not even walking it to a listening station but instead thinking, "Hmm. I recall hearing something good about this group. I have no idea what they're about, but I'll pick this one to freshen up the other CDs of familiar artists that I'm going to get."

Oh, this is shopping the old school way. As I recall one analyst saying of older music consumers like me, "This is the way (I've) learned commerce."

I've now found my summer fun. Ladies and gents, allow me to introduce to you Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. Grace is the principle songwriter and singer for this group. She's a belter who'll remind you of Bonnie Raitt at some turns and Janis Joplin at others. This album can and should be played loudly, and its hooks are so good that you'll be reaching for it as instinctively as you go for your cold drink.

I love the appearance of this group. Grace is a real looker: long-legged, blonde, and her female companion in the group, bass player Catherine Popper, also seizes a male's attention immediately.

Both gals love their high heels. There's no surprise then to learn that she revels in sexed-up lyrics and a bluesy sensibility. Take the album's opening track, Paris (Oh La La).

You got me down on the floor
So what'd you bring me down here for?...
If I was a man I'd make my move
If I was a blade I'd shave you smooth
If I was a judge I'd break the law
And if I was from Paris..
I would say
Oooh la la la la la la la

Potter delivers her lyrics in a bluesy style that grips your attention immediately. The harmonizing on the chorus is infectious. The lyrics are brief but clever and the power-rock template is set. You want to hear more.

See? Old-school, again! I'm proceeding from cut to cut!

Before I continue, let me dwell briefly on Grace's other Nocturnals. There are three guys in the band and I love their look: they look as if they're freshly thawed from the cryogenic chamber they walked into in the 1970s. I look at them and think, "Ah, isn't this funny? I ignored guys who looked like this in the 1970s. But now I get it. I have a taste--no, a need--for loud, long guitar solos. I'm too proud to go back and listen to the Allman Brothers. I don't want to feel that old. But here they are, these guys who will give me that rockin' flava, and they're teamed up with these total babes. I am lovin' the jarring juxtaposition: '70s hippies with these obvious Reagan/Bush-era type gals. Bring it on!"

The second number, "Oasis", features Grace doing her best Bonnie Raitt. I don't mean to diminish her singing. It is flexible enough that you can't call her a shameless imitator. It's just inevitable when you have ears like mine that have heard so many singers that such comparisons are made. I will say that Grace Potter's songwriting is terrific. Besides the wonderful hooks and the obedience to classic pop song structure, she tells a good story. She adheres to a single idea but there's a little mystery in the songs too for all the lyric watchers like me. (You know, the old-schoolers who sit back with the CD booklet like they used to with the album covers!)

Anyway, "Oasis" is acoustically-based, a welcome break after the jolt of the opening track.

The third track gets you rockin' again. "Medicine" tells about a bewitching "policy woman" (see, a little mystery?) who, with her rattling bones, magic stones, love potion, magnetic sand, and mojo hand is a-stealin' Grace's man.

Policy woman took the love from my lover
He's been in a haze since the day he saw her
She shook her hips and her long black hair
Now all my baby does is stare at that gypsy woman

You like the way she makes you feel
She got you spinning on her medicine wheel
She's crossing me with magnetic sand
She hypnotizes with her mojo hand

She got the medicine that everybody wants..

Terrific song that'll grip you from your first listen. Is this the track where Grace pants and screams? Or is it the one where the guitars are doing the screaming? Whatever! I just know that this is a great summertime CD.

I'm afraid Grace is totally successful working her mojo hand on me. I'm hypnotized, and thankful for it. Not that I had any misgivings about my own mojo, mind you, but just that I needed to have my spirits lifted.

Place a bet on Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. You won't be disappointed!

1 comment:

Van said...

Too proud to revisit The Allman's? Swallow your pride, man, and try their most recent studio album," Hittin The Note." I believe you will love it.

Glad you found The Nocs!