Many gifts have come out of the state of Vermont: Ben & Jerry’s Half-Baked ice cream, Vermont maple syrup, Bernie Sanders with his people power movement in American politics, and Grace Potter with her contortion of rock 'n' roll.
It's 2020, but we are all still reeling from Potter’s October 2019 album Daylight, her second solo release since 2015's Midnight. Potter has most definitely moved on from her days with the Nocturnals.
There is a special spot in my heart for the song "Back to Me" off of Daylight. Her soulful voice, along with the backing vocals, is reminiscent of something the Supremes would put together. Potter sings, "That I really don’t know what you need/But I really don’t think that it’s me" with the passion of a woman that is done with this shit. Before the listener can settle in and expect one style of music, Potter moves into another. On "On My Way," she pulls out her tough chick card and sings that it’s too late to be afraid because she is already on her way. She summons Mick Jagger's spirit when she screams, "If luck ain’t a lady/Love ain’t a game/Why’s everybody trying to play?" Potter is fearless in her approach — it’s a rock-'n'-roll good time and if you don’t like it, you better get the fuck out of her way.
Just when you think you are listening to a blistering rock/soul album by the legendary singer/songwriter, you find yourself in the palm of her hand with the song "Every Heartbeat." It’s a beautiful folk track that builds into what you’d expect from the Vermont native, with a chorus that catches your heart and makes at least this loveless listener believe in the impossibility of love: "I can feel you, and you can feel me/And I fall deeper with every heartbeat/And when you call me, I’ll come running/As I fall deeper with every heartbeat." Potter’s divorce from former Nocturnals bandmate Matt Burr and finding new love (she married record producer Eric Valentine in 2018) along with the birth of a child is the passion that breathes life into a song like "Every Heartbeat."
And just as I begin to get comfortable with the idea of love again, then Potter hits us over the head with the piano-focused track "Release," where she ponders the complications of leaving a lover. That even if she released that lover from her heart, it doesn’t change the attachment and love that she still feels. And she hopes that one day she will, too, be released from that darkness. With lyrics like "Even if I’m in your arms/Even if you touch my skin/I could never change my heart/After being where it’s been," she touches on the difficulty of moving on from a relationship that has been such a strong part of her life for so long. She will never be the same but hopes soon she too will be free of the pain that comes with the darkness left behind from a broken relationship.
As one can hear from listening to Daylight, Potter hasn’t lost a step as a songwriter and performer. In fact, it feels more personal than anything she wrote with the Nocturnals. It’s a continuation of her fearless songwriting from her debut solo album. The sounds and style of Midnight is something that was a departure from anything she had done prior to this album. The dance track "Alive Tonight" is a standout pop hit that had Potter's vocals backed up and ready to get you fist-pumping to the heavens like she has never done before while singing about the end of it all. It’s beautiful when we get to see an artist grow and do it with immense dexterity without leaving her Vermont indie-folk roots. The funk is real on her debut album, and I suspect it was the foray into a more dance-friendly/upbeat project that has led to the more sentimental feel to her current album.
Few artists can move and evolve through the years, but when we find artists that do, it’s a sight to behold. Potter finds herself among artists like David Bowie and Kanye West, with her ability to take so many different musical routes to express her growth as a human. Let’s just hope she doesn’t end up making gospel music for the evangelical crowd at the end of it all.
An artist like Grace Potter doesn’t get to the heights she has found herself in without hard work. Potter and the Nocturnals formed in 2002 and started out in the indie scene, where they toured extensively, playing up to 200 shows a year. They hit the music festival circuit early on and caught on commercially in 2010 with their third album, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. Since then, Potter has been compared to Janis Joplin and Bonnie Raitt due to her blues-influenced singing. Songs like "The Lion the Beast the Beat," off of the Nocturnals' 2012 album of the same name, are examples of that big voice and the intensity that Potter brings to her work.
Just think, Potter was contemplating an end to her music career after the breakup of the Nocturnals and the gift of a child from a new marriage, but something drew her back to the studio where she belongs, this time as a solo artist. Since she made that decision, we have witnessed a deeper Grace Potter. Her songwriting went from more general ideas and thoughts to more introspective and personal songwriting. It’s this change in her writing that has led to such acclaim since leaving the band she had gotten started with back in 2002, and the Vermont singer/songwriter is better for it.
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