Grace Potter: Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong (Relix Revisited)
By promising the band artistic freedom and by turning it into a pet project of sorts, Cavallo persuaded Potter and The Nocturnals to pick his company, whose deep pockets are paying for the perfection it’s chasing here at this secluded, shady hub, where Alicia Keys and The Scorpions have come and gone since the sessions began. The band members entered this world with trepidation, too—the last time they recorded, they cut the previous Nothing but the Water, a collection of songs they cut live in a barn over just a matter of days.
When they began the sessions for this album last fall, putting their faith in the hands of producer and ex-Whiskeytown multi-instrumentalist Mike Daly and top-shelf engineers like Joe Chiccarelli, they began work with a mind toward cutting a classic record. And they agreed to make it the old-fashioned way: capturing it on tape and piecing it together one small, painstaking step at a time. After months of this, one gets the feeling that it’s just about killed them. From the general malaise wafting through the studio, and the passionless way in which they describe making the record, it seems like the band members aren’t entirely sure that they made the right decision. If there was magic in the air when the work began, they seem unsure that it’s still here, or if it will translate.
Over the next few months, those questions answer themselves as the band begins to preview the fruit of their labor, the just-finished This is Somewhere. And they’ll hit a particular high point while playing the songs for a group of fans and tastemakers over two shows in New York in May. There, they blend stomping paint-peelers like “Stop the Bus” and “Ah Mary” with free-wheeling midtempo romps like “Mr. Columbus,” and maybe the album’s best track, a gospel number called “Big White Gate,” in which Potter portrays a dying woman who’s failed at parenting, romance, everything but singing: “Saint Peter, won’t you open up the big white gate/’Cause I heard about forgiveness and I hope it ain’t too late.”
Easily mistaken for a cover—or even a traditional—for its familiarity, it offers another example of how Potter can play tricks with the listener and a peak at the breadth of her talents. During the encore at both shows, she does the same with an entirely different type of song, using the end of the show to show off a song so new that it didn’t make the initial pressing of the record, the glammy, sexy “If I Was From Paris,” for which she straps on a Flying V guitar en route to shooting her sex appeal through the roof. Against Tournet’s heavy riffing, she howls the verses and ooo-la-las in the chorus, leaving the crowd each night fully rocked and kind of stunned. The assembled tastemakers are left wanting more, and the men among them just want her.
“I think we’ve always been snobs about old-school music, now it’s the melding of two worlds, straddling the fence between the future and the past,” Tournet says later. I’m probably the biggest pain in the ass, as far as changing, but Grace is an amazing sponge.”
“Yeah,” she says, “The songs change when I hear stuff that I like that doesn’t sound like The Band. And from a lyrical standpoint, it was also really was important for me to write some songs that were going to resonate and weren’t just like a ballad of a woman getting beat up by a drunk guy. It’s great to have those songs in your repertoire, but I wanted some more personal stuff, so I got more serious. I think this album is a big step. If we had made it six months earlier, we would have made a totally different record. We launched pretty far forward in terms of what we were comfortable doing with this record.”
From the other side of the glass watching her nail “Apologies” or catching her crank out rough-and-tumble barnstormers from the audience, it’s easy to forget that Potter’s only 23 years old. But even if she has a tendency to transcend her age, regaling each of the label execs and all of the frat boys at her gigs in the process, Potter is every bit the 23-year-old.
A loud-talking and sometimes obnoxious free spirit, she can cuss like a sailor and her eyes swell like a child’s and her voice fills with enthusiasm when she tells stories. More tomboy than hippie chick, she talks—and acts—like one of the guys. If sexy, confident, and, well, graceful behind the microphone, she can on occasion seem more like a good ole boy at a kegger away from it. She won’t hesitate in mixed company to express just how badly she needs to have a bowel movement. Or she’ll belch—loudly—those older-brother-style belches that sound like a semi truck rolling over a toad mid-croak.
Onstage, that side of her personality has made for some brow-raising moments, like the night she complained about a nasty case of camel toe, or when she even embarrassed herself: “I burped into the mic once, and my mom was at the show and she flipped out.” And she admits to getting off on confusing the audience: “Something’s gotta change every night.”
That contrast between soul-rock siren and uninhibited tomboy is a big part of Potter’s charm. But it’s sometimes unclear how much of that is Grace just being Grace and how much, if any, is calculated. There’s a sense that that side of Potter is sort of a defense mechanism, with which she tries to blend in with Tournet, Burr and Dondero. She’s so often surrounded by men that it sometimes seems like she’s trying to diffuse her sex appeal.
“I think that Grace enjoys the fact that it doesn’t all sum up sometimes,” says producer Mike Daly, “the fact that she can sit there and sing ‘Apologies’ and then fart. I think she likes throwing people off a little bit with those inconsistencies.”
That’s not to say she doesn’t know when to step it up professionally. She’s acutely aware of the cause-and-effect of her actions, and of her sexuality. At the second of those two New York shows, the band played a gig exclusively for tastemakers at the sometimes stuffy Joe’s Pub, where Cavallo warned her that the audience would be much more fickle than those gathered the night before at The Mercury Lounge. Taking the stage in a jaw-dropping tube dress and knee-high come-hither boots, she opened with the band’s epic a capella “Nothing but the Water,” and closed again with “If I Was From Paris,” owning the audience from open to close.
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
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