WMOT Friends Gather For An Evening of Grace
Berry Hill is the little music row many people don't know about, a cozy neighborhood next to 100 Oaks where magic is made on a regular basis, usually witnessed only by the industry insiders rolling the tape. So it felt particularly on-brand when WMOT welcomed about 20 new listener members to one of the district's most elite recording studios for an exclusive live session by Grace Potter on Monday night.
Potter is one of the nation's most commanding and in-demand songwriter/artists bridging roots music and classic rock and roll. She's a firebrand on a stage that usually surges with her B3 organ and a funk furnace rhythm section, so the chance to hear her burnished and moving voice close up with only a couple of guitars or keyboard was a rare treat. Here, it was just Potter and husband Eric Valentine, producer of her recent records, offering some of the gut-punch confessional songs from her first album in four years. Daylight was released only a couple of weeks ago.
Set opener "Every Heartbeat," a love letter to her new child and new relationship, made it sound like all is bliss and rainbows in Potter's world. But the rest of the set proved she's walked through some dark valleys to get here. The press material surrounding the new album lays out the context: a divorce, a band break-up followed by renewed love and a new family. After touring almost non-stop since age 19, she told WMOT host Ana Lee, "I grew some roots." She spoke on the live broadcast of trading her "swagger and bravado" for a new vulnerability. "I did not expect these songs to go out in the public," she said. "They were my journal entries."
In "Please" she played the organ with Valentine's R&B guitar arpeggios while singing about the very difficult business of wishing a broken-up partner peace and forgiveness. I'd heard "I Will Always Love You" the same day, and it had a similar poignancy. She set up "Love Is Love" as "a slightly terrifying confessional" and in the song she seems to plunge into the netherworld between a faltering marriage and the temptation of a new love, with a lyric so strong Otis Redding would have gladly cut it.
Grace Potter's speaking voice is bright and effervescent, hinting very little at the power and tension we hear when she sings. Her point of view comes from soul and R&B, and if pressed to compare her to anyone contemporary I could only think of Adele, albeit pitched up a few notes higher. She has exquisite control over her knife's edge of rasp and a smoky, lived-in quality that speaks to her experience and mastery. This all came into its fullest focus on her final song "Release," performed at the piano. "I release you from the darkness, From the love that we swore was true, I hope that, someday, the sun will shine again, And you'll release me, too," she sang with crystalline honesty. You'll hear it on the album, but it was something else to hear it from a few feet away.