FANTASY RECORDS 18th August 2023
This fantastically soulful rootsy blues-soul album rings with experience, both of music making and hard road life experience. That’s the linking theme, opening on the single, ‘Mother Road’, the set springs from a long journey on Route 66 during Covid. Even mentioning Route 66 triggers thoughts of classic journeys and classic songs, which should let you know where we are going. We are going to the heart of classic rocking rolling soul-blues.
The label should tip you off – it’s the sort of thing Fantasy do well – and this is one of their strongest examples. Five albums into her career and Grace Potter knows exactly what she’s doing. Her voice is classic hard-worked, stretched and loud, yet humanly vulnerable. Think somewhere between Janis Joplin and Suzi Quatro. But this isn’t a seventies trip, it’s timeless – the sort of American sound that hymns the contrary pulls in the dreams of rocking folk. It’s blessed with a truly dreadful sleeve that belongs in the seventies too, but if you go straight to digital you can skip that, or just write it off as sass.
‘Mother Road’ is a down and dusty bluesy shuffle heading into a Springsteen ballad. ‘Truck Stop Angels’ is punchy and proud with flying blues guitar and encouragement from the backing chorus. “Buckle up ‘cos it’s going to be a bumpy ride”, she sings, before her motto “there’s nothing wrong with saying no, but try a little yes”. The next couple of songs are good time burners and lead in a concept album sort of a style into “Little Hitchhiker”, which re-imagines when nine year old Grace ran away from home with quiet, sweet fingerpicking. Potter explains that the headspace of a long drive lead to digging into and remaking memories: “In the solitude, I found myself smashing open the piggy bank of deeply-buried memories. Those gems of my real-life exploits spilled into my creative consciousness and emboldened me to write an album that reaches far beyond what actually happened –launching me down the alternate-reality roads of what could have happened.”
So far, so deep but the album is all about the fun, the funky, the attitude, the sound for me and “Lady Vagabond” is very nearly the best exemplar of that here. Fusing the High Chaparral, Ennio Morricone and a sweep of twangy guitar and Mexican trumpets, it is a big brassy show-off song, a statement of her mission. This is a convincing voice, confident enough to nearly sneer, yet fully human. ‘Futureland’ has a racing pulse, belting blues, vocals reaching as far as they can and beyond and then rhyming ‘ghost’ with ‘compost’. The finale is grand; ‘Masterpiece’ is piano-led, a big theatrical number, pounding and stuffed with attitude.
This is an album of rocking blues soul in the classic style and an extremely good example of the genre, with a fantastic voice belting out infernally catchy songs that tug in all the right places.