MUSIC BOX: Potter Plunges into Pop

By on February 2, 2016

The rock songstress returns with a new band, and a new sound.

Caption: Grace Potter unleashes her new sound for a sold out crowd at Center for the Arts on Monday.

Caption: Grace Potter unleashes her new sound for a sold out crowd at Center for the Arts on Monday.

Jackson, WY – Artists reinvent themselves for a slew of reasons, wise and unwarranted. David Bowie’s long career was constantly fluid. Robert Plant went Americana. In the 80’s, under the gun from his label, Neil Young made widely differing albums that flopped—1982’s synth-heavy “Trans” followed by the short rockabilly set “Everybody’s Rockin’.” Laidback folkster Nathaniel Rateliff fruitfully changed gears to an old school, soul bandleader after being dropped by his singer-songwriter label.

For the restless 32-year-old Grace Potter, a reinvention comes in the form of her 2015 solo debut, “Midnight.” The album’s tag on iTunes reads “high-gloss pop.” This follows five albums with her longtime band, The Nocturnals, whom became rock stars in front of our eyes here in Teton County. The band first sold out the Mangy Moose in February 2008 (at a $10 ticket), followed by a subsequent set at Targhee Fest. Then another sold out show at Pink Garter Theatre (at $25 a ticket) and finally as headliner of JHMR’s Rendezvous Fest in 2010. At that time, the fiery band was a mash of rootsy Neil Young, Little Feat and Susan Tedeschi-vibed rock ‘n’ roll with bluesy-soul undertones.

In the meantime, Potter has sidestepped into mainstream country, widening her audience by guest singing on Kenny Chesney’s Grammy-nominated “You and Tequila,” and this year’s hit “Wild Child.” Now, without The Nocturnals, “Midnight” is a plunge in synth-fortified dance-pop. With her new solo band, she opened up two dates with The Rolling Stones last year, even joining Mick Jagger on stage to sing on “Gimme Shelter.” Well, damn!

As a fan of the ‘old’ Nocturnals vintage live sound, this columnist found “Midnight” to feel like a conscious campaign to create a hit-making pop star. There are often unnecessary and distracting glam effects on Potter’s voice and the drums are over-the-top electronic. Though I’m alienated by the production, when hearing an album song stripped down to its core, such as a solo acoustic version of “The Minor” that Potter played live on WXPN in Philadelphia, the rawness of her down-to-earth writing resurfaces.

“Artists that I love—Bowie, Miles Davis, Dylan—that really challenged the perception of the outside world really made the big breakthroughs,” Potter told WXPN of the new direction. “This solo record is singularly an opportunity for me to both wander into a movie I’ve never been in before, but also stay true to myself and speak from a singular perspective.”

It takes a lot of guts to change your sound once you’ve already had the public in your grips. Potter is still a force to be reckoned with on stage, and my guess is that the new live show bridges the gap between her split musical personalities. The faces at her concerts will grow more diverse, her music will reach a broader demographic, and that will likely enable her to go in more directions than she’s already been. Touché.

Potter’s new keyboardist, Eliza Hardy Jones, opens the show in support of her debut solo album, “Because Become.” You may recognize her as a member of Strand of Oaks and Buried Beds.

Grace Potter with Eliza Hardy Jones, 8 p.m., Monday at the Center Theater. $51-$71 (sold out). JHCenterForTheArts.org.

Red Top benefit with Canyon Kids

A benefit is always sweetened when it’s a concert at a honkytonk. Red Top Meadows is under the umbrella of Teton Youth and Family Services, providing residential treatment and therapeutic wilderness programs for adolescent males with behavioral issues. The wilderness programs help accelerate the therapeutic process and were a brainchild of the late Mark Ames, who started at Red Top in 1981.

If you don’t know the hippest indie-folk-rockers in town—Canyon Kids, here’s your chance to experience the project in its big band era. From a duo, to a quartet, and now a six-piece for select shows, the lineup now features the old Elk Attack rhythm section of Adam Woolley (bass) and John Wayne Harris, Jr. (drums), along with Matt Herron on fiddle and Sheena Dhamsania singing harmony behind the core songwriting duo of Bo Elledge and Dusty Nichols. PJH

A benefit for the Red Top Meadows Mark Ames Wilderness Memorial Fund featuring Canyon Kids, 8 to 11 p.m., Saturday at the Stagecoach Bar in Wilson. $10. 733-4407.

PLANET PICKS

WED: Maw Band (après; Mangy Moose). FRI: Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn (Center Theater). SAT: Benefit for the Red Top Meadows Mark Ames Wilderness Memorial Fund featuring Canyon Kids (Stagecoach); Marti Gras Party with Teton Dixie Kings (Trap Bar). SUN: Byron Tomingas (National Museum of Wildlife Art). MON: Grace Potter with Eliza Hardy Jones (Center Theater). TUES: Futurebirds (Town Square Tavern).

Aaron Davis is a songwriting troubadour, multi-instrumentalist, founding member of Screen Door Porch and Boondocks, and host of Songwriter’s Alley.

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About Aaron Davis

Aaron Davis is a decade-long writer of Music Box, a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, member of Screen Door Porch and Boondocks, founder/host of Songwriter’s Alley, and co-founder of The WYOmericana Caravan.

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