Grace Potter & the Nocturnals: Grace Potter (vocals); Scott Tournet (guitar, slide guitar); Bryan Dondero (upright bass, bass guitar); Matt Burr (drums, percussion).
While the 22-year-old Grace Potter's vocal influences are obvious -- Bonnies Raitt and Bramlett, Susan Tedeschi, and Lucinda Williams -- it's what she does with her voice that is most impressive. This sophomore indie album gets all the parts right. Even though the band is from Vermont, there is no denying the Southern blues, gospel and swamp rock that course through its veins. Potter's songs, all co-written with her group, grind through a combination of the Band, J.J. Cale (who she namechecks on the opening "Toothbrush and My Table"), Taj Mahal, and Tift Merritt. Although it is self-recorded, Nothing but the Water exudes a professional sound and the band knows when to play and when to lay back. Lyrically, Potter is stuck on the lost love track, but she makes the most of that overworked concept with smart, savvy words that retain an air of mystery. She's got a terrific, grainy voice, but it's her piano and Hammond B-3 playing that really set her apart from the pack. The organ adds a gospel flavor -- part Gregg Allman, part Booker T., part Steve Winwood -- that pushes this material from good to great. "Treat Me Right" throbs with a sexuality perfectly echoed in the band's skeletal swamp funk backing. In particular, Scott Tournet's slide guitar pushes the rollicking "Sweet Hands" down Highway 61 as Potter charges through lyrics such as "it's like touch and go without the touch" with a mix of sassy fire and feisty intensity. "Joey" tells the story of spousal abuse with images that are powerful and scary ("He looks me in the eye, he'll hit me 'til I cry"). She goes full Delta blues/Bonnie Raitt mode on the acoustic "2:22," accompanied only by acoustic guitar and subtle standup bass. It's an impressive track and shows she could be a fine traditional blues singer if she wanted to pursue that avenue. The final trilogy of tracks is the album's highlight. Shifting from the spooky instrumental "Below the Beams" to the a cappella gospel of "Nothing but the Water Pt.1" and into the song's rollicking "Pt. 2," the band fires on all cylinders as Potter spits out the gospel words powered by her own keyboards and the band's surging storm of blues-rock. It caps an impressive release that only scratches the surface of what this band can generate live. [A CD/DVD version of the album is available with an accompanying 40-minute, five-song DVD reprises three of the album's tracks, adds a few new ones, and shows how powerful a presence Potter and her band can be onstage. ~ Hal Horowitz