Grace Potter and the Nocturnals Freshen Up

Originally published in Guitar World, December 2010

Modern ambient sounds blend with blues rock on the band’s new self-titled album.

Scott Tournet plays in what may well be the funkiest, most soulful band in that fierce soul-funk hotbed known as Vermont. Even so, this founding member of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals is haunted by existential worries. “I feel like, in this day and age, just being an awesome lead guitar player is almost not enough,” he says. “It’s been done so well that it’s kind of like, What can you do to top that?” Tournet’s solution has been to diversify: before the Nocturnals recorded their third studio disc, a self-titled effort released in June, they recruited second guitarist Benny Yurco and bassist Catherine Popper; that freed up Tournet to focus on what he calls “the icing on the cake: lap steel, lots of reverb, spacey delay.”

That icing unquestionably sweetens the band’s groove throughout Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, which they made with producer Mark Batson (Alicia Keys, Dave Matthews Band). With touches like the dreamy, Radiohead-style squiggles in “Tiny Light,” it’s the rare retro-rock record worth listening to through headphones.

Says Potter, “Scott’s soundscapes always make me think of Jonny Greenwood,” whom the singer calls “almost not a guitar player.” “What we do comes from soul music and the blues, but on this record we wanted to expand upon that and move forward,” Tournet says, “add something from the future to the old-school.”

Of course, all that detail more or less recedes into the background when the Nocturnals (including drummer Matt Burr) take the stage, where Potter rules with a fiery presence that’s earned her comparisons to Janis Joplin and Bonnie Raitt. She compares the band’s situation to that of Wilco. “They’re a great live band whose records are almost completely different beasts,” she says. “We just wanted to make an album that was its own experience.”

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