"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Nothing But the Water
Buffalo Records, 2,500 yen

With their sophomore indie album Nothing But the Water, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
take a step toward the big time. In turning down several major label offers in the United States, the 22-year-old singer-songwriter and her band have placed their trust in manager Justin Goldberg, a former Sony A&R man and born-again indie record advocate.

The group have generated some buzz, making the charts in their home state and touring as an opening act for fellow Vermonter Trey Anastasio as well as big-name blues and rock acts including the Dave Matthews Band, Robert Cray and the North Mississippi All Stars.

With Buffalo Records releasing the album in Japan, the listening public here may be one step ahead of North Americans in that they will be able to walk into a record store and buy this disc. It will only be lack of distribution and label support that keeps this album from being a breakthrough hit in North America.

Nothing But the Water is terrific blend of blues, retro-rock, Americana and blue-eyed soul. Potter plays a mean Hammond organ, writes great breakup songs and has powerful, bluesy-but-smooth voice that brings Dusty Springfield, Bonnie Raitt and Koko Taylor to mind, with the phrasing and power of a gospel or soul singer in the Otis Redding-Tina Turner vein.

While Potter can belt it out with the best of them, her tendency to always swing for the fences sometimes works against her--think Melissa Etheridge and Janis Joplin. Sometimes less is more, and the more intimate moments on the album, such as "Ragged Company" and the taut country-gal blues of "Left Behind" are among the best. "Some Kind of Ride" suffers a bit from diva overdrive, but makes up for it with some great funky soul.

Enough good things cannot be said about the opening "Toothbrush and My Table," a jocular, almost jaunty breakup song that amounts to a laundry list of possessions the singer wishes to reclaim. Woe betide anyone who gets in the way, lest the empowered singer "start blasting Cat Scratch Fever!" It is hard to imagine a more radio-friendly single, and the song has enough musical and lyrical hooks to fill at least one side of a Carole King album. Just try getting it out of your head once it gets in there.

Grace Potter is a name you'll be hearing in years to come.

Universal, 2,548 yen

A number of critics have chastised Americana auteur Ryan Adams for eschewing quality for quantity with his prodigious output. I won't be one of them. Adams' chaff is what most artists would call wheat.

This latest album is his third release in 12 months following on last spring's double CD Cold Roses and late summer's Lights of Jacksonville, both recorded with the Cardinals, but it hardly seems like a mere afterthought.

A definite downer, 29 is full of sad songs like "Elizabeth, You Were Born to Play That Part" and "Nightbirds" that are as good as any Adams has written.

For the most part, 29 features Adams' wounded voice backed by sparse piano or guitar. He mines the same early '70s vein he always has echoing Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Tim Buckley. The title track puts new lyrics and a garage rock feel to the Grateful Dead's "Truckin," and Adams pushes the boundary between pathos and self-parody on "The Sadness" with mariachi horns and over-emotive vocals.

But on the whole, the album is another solid effort.
(Feb. 9, 2006)

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