Grace Potter and the Nocturnals’ “Only Love” is not a starry-eyed love song, but with its refrain, “It’s only love, it’s only love,” it sure does sound like one. It’s a ballsy mix: one-half funk-strut hump, one-half I-just-can’t-quit-you-but-I-have-to anti-love song.
“I need to loosen my grip just a little bit/ I feel this love like a stranglehold/ But there's something stopping me from losing it/ There's nothing harder than letting go.”
I’m not going to demean Grace Potter by drawing a line between male and female singer/songwriters—especially the non-weenies that work in rock ‘n’ roll—because your sex organs have nothing to do with your level of bad-assery. Check your misogynist “Chick Rock” labels at the door.
Potter's a multi-instrumentalist, playing the keys like she was reared by House-of-the-Rising-Sun-era players, grabbing the guitar when she feels like it and shaking the tambourine like Stevie Nicks during the, um, more “energetic” stages of her career. She does it all so naturally that I’m convinced there’s some Allman in her bloodline somewhere.
The band's been playing together since the early aughts, and (thankfully) doesn't rely on theatrics, costume changes, goofy choreography or giant mechanized puppets to bring the boys to the yard. They don’t need to. They’re just that much fun to watch.
Here’s the thing: The studio version of the song (Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Hollywood Records, 2010) only does the band marginal justice. The production is on point, but the outfit's live energy—its greatest strength—is lost. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals made a name for themselves on the festival circuit, so it shouldn't be a surprise that the band shines brightest live.
(This isn't the greatest quality, but you'll get a sense of the band's performance)
Here's a high-quality live-recording of "Only Love."
Maybe that identity crisis is why the marketing department doesn’t really know how to package them. Since 2010, Potter’s been cast as a sequin-wearing slickster who probably drinks too much whiskey and probably gets kicked out of swanky parties that she didn’t want to attend anyway. Before that, she looked fairly natural and unassuming, an any-blonde-in-a-sundress, that is, until she got behind the mike. Then, it was clear that the one-of-the-boys/girl-next-door was a hard-belting roots-rock vessel. Now, as the voice behind “Stars,” the song that helped launch Nashville on ABC, she’s, uh, borderline country? Meh.
Sure, the packaging is confusing, but who cares? I’m not in it for the image. She could wave a giant foam finger and wear a “Here for the Beer!” t-shirt and I’d still be awe-struck.
This is what talent looks like, people. Plus, if you listen to “Only Love” while you walk down the street, you’ll probably have to stop yourself from stomp-strutting. I know I do.
Grace Potter for President!