CD reviews: Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, Crowfield, Shatterdog
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Grace Potter & the Nocturnals
The Lion The Beast The Beat/Hollywood
After years of lurking just below the surface of stardom, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals finally broke through with its self-titled 2010 album. Thanks to almost constant touring and the catchiness of songs such as “Paris (Ooh La La),” Potter and her band have finally started to enjoy the fruits of their labors.
The band’s latest studio effort, “The Lion The Beast The Beat,” continues the momentum put forth by the last release.
Sounding like a slightly more soulful version of Sheryl Crow, Potter has one of those voices that sounds just as good belting out a bluesy rock number as it does crooning an R&B tune. It can be smooth as honey one moment and sufficiently ragged the next, and in a live setting the woman is a force of nature.
A good portion of the power from that live act carries over into “The Lion The Beast The Beat,” and the variety of songs is once again a top selling point here. The leadoff title track builds slowly before finally kicking into overdrive almost two minutes in. I suspect that this tune will make for an amazing opening song at future Potter performances.
The lightly funky “Never Go Back” follows, which in turn gives way to the popish “Parachute Heart” and the soulful “Stars.” The rest of the album continues to see Potter & the Nocturnals acting like a band with multiple personality disorder, jumping from one genre to another. The shifting of styles does have the occasional misstep. An alternate version of “Stars” with Kenny Chesney is painfully out of place, and while it’s cool that Potter had the chance to record with country legend Willie Nelson, the resulting song, “Ragged Company,” is forgettable.
Still, there is enough on this new release to warrant checking it out if you enjoyed the last album. The truth is Grace Potter & the Nocturnals is a band that is best experienced live, and hopefully the band’s touring schedule will bring them back to the Lowcountry soon. Should that happen, don’t miss it.
Key Tracks: “The Lion The Beast The Beat,” “Stars,” “Parachute Heart”
The Diamond Sessions/Independent
When the local band Crowfield released its debut, “Goodbye, Goodnight, So Long Midwestern,” in 2008, the album was a ridiculously good collection of roots rock songs that called to mind classic acts such as The Band and John Mellencamp.
Crowfield’s self-titled sophomore release took the band’s sound in a much more contemporary direction.
Now comes “The Diamond Sessions,” which combines the best parts of the previous albums, while also taking new creative steps. Lead singer Tyler Mechem kicks off the CD singing almost in a whisper at the start of “Catching Up,” until drummer Parker Gins comes in with a snare drum roll, and suddenly the listener is immersed in the sound that made them fall in love with this band.
The new album is deeply personal on just about every level, including its title. “The Diamond Sessions” refers to Johnny Diamond, a well-known manager and mentor of local acts who passed away last fall. Crowfield was one of the many bands Diamond championed, and the band includes a heartfelt thank-you message to him in the CD’s liner notes. Elsewhere on the album there is no shortage of catchy, roots rock-flavored songs. There are a few nice touches, including string sections on some songs and horns on others.
Particularly great are the very catchy “Change of Heart” with its subtle horns, as well as the sweeping “Black Hills,” which Mechem calls “my opus.”
Far and away the best song on the album is “Measure of a Life,” which will likely have you replaying it more than a few times as you marvel at its subtle genius. Possibly the best thing about “The Diamond Sessions” though is that this is an album that begs to be listened to from beginning to end. Doing so truly brings out the collective beauty of this aural gem.
Crowfield will be holding a CD release party, which will include a live performance, at 2 p.m. Saturday at Monster Music, 46 Orleans Road.
Key Tracks: “Measure of a Life,” “Black Hills,” “Change of Heart”
Sometimes when making an album, a band tries so hard to impress that it all but beats the listener over the head with its ambition.
There’s an art to introducing yourself to the world through your music, and the road to success is littered with independent releases that either tried too hard or didn’t give enough.
The local musicians in Shatterdog definitely seem to have found that happy medium on the band’s debut, “Fisticuffsmanship.”
Consisting of multi-instrumentalist George Stevens, bassist McGregor Jordan, guitarist Dan Crawford and drummer Brent Caldwell, the music on “Fisticuffsmanship” (try saying that five times fast) is the sort of folk-rock that sounds great coming from the speakers on a lazy Sunday, or over a car stereo on a road trip.
The musicians don’t limit themselves to a single sound, kicking things off with “Archery,” which is reminiscent of roots acts such as Old Crow Medicine Show, but then quickly shifting to tunes such as “Honeybrain” and “Thing She Does,” which are reminiscent of bands such as The Samples and Toad the Wet Sprocket, respectively.
Further in, “World Gets Ready” provides a lightly psychedelic throwback sound that works well.
Even later into the album things are still catchy, especially on the excellent “Rebecca With Results.”
One gets the feeling that rather than trying to kick in the door in an attempt to introduce itself to local music listeners, the members of Shatterdog are instead offering this agreeable debut as a friendly handshake. Smart move.
Key Tracks: “Archery,” “Honeybrain,” “Rebecca With Results”
By Devin Grant