Grace Potter & The Nocturnals : The Lion The Beast The Beat


Earlier in the year, some fans were worried about the direction Grace Potter and the Nocturnals were heading. Bassist Catherine Popper had recently left the band. Then the band announced a tour opening for country artists Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw.  The release of The Lion The Beast The Beat should alleviate those worries, though.

The band’s fourth studio album is a dynamic collection of hip-shaking blues rock overlaid with pop melodies. Though pop sensibilities have long-since drifted the band away from the raw garage blues of its 2005 debut, Potter and company’s bare emotion and charisma remain the driving forces of the music. Potter’s voice is equal parts seductive and dangerous, a powerful and evocative instrument in its own right. Musically, the collection boasts the two most grandiose showstoppers since the two-part “Nothing but the Water.”

The album is Potter’s most expansive to date, with vast sonic and thematic landscapes. Produced by Jim Scott (Wilco, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), The Lion The Beast The Beat deftly balances muscular rock riffs with Potter’s sultry vocals. The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach co-wrote three songs, the swampy “Loneliest Soul” and the album’s most melodic sing-along tracks, “Runaway” and “Never Go Back.”

While the collection is impressive, it is not without misfires. The back to back milquetoast ballads “Parachute Heart” and “Stars” cause a lull one-third of the way into the album. Potter’s lyrics are occasionally cringe-worthy, such as shouting “I will be your record/and you will be my turntable.” For all the band’s steps away from their comfort zone, though, most steps land on solid ground.

The album is bookended by two epic tracks that provide its finest moments while creating a definitive narrative structure to the collection. The title track opens with swelling organ and choppy drums before giving way to a pounding dancehall beat and furious rock riffing. In the song, Potter muses on the subjectivity of our perception. “Just feel what you can’t see,” she pleads, before remarking how “I found the heart of a lion/ in the belly of a beast.”

It is a theme explored throughout the album, straight through to the closing track, “The Divide.” In a reprise of the title track, Potter sings “I can’t tell the lion from the beast.” Thematically and sonically, “The Divide” serves as denouement. The gospel-tinged background vocals and crashing guitars create a sense of finality. In the end, the tempest builds to a crescendo, leaving Potter with an epiphany: “I gotta find the divide.”

The Lion The Beast The Beat is Potter’s most conscious effort to capture the essence of their live performances to date. That helps mask some of the album’s weak points, such as Potter’s swagger overcoming the weak lyrics of “Turntable.” The result is an album that appeals on all levels, from the soul-searching poetry to the beast-like magnetism of  her vivacious rock.

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