TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. The rock band Grace Potter and the Nocturnals has had a lot of success as a concert act powered by its lead singer's voice. Now Grace Potter has struck out on her own and made her first solo album called "Midnight." Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review.
(SOUNDBITE OF GRACE POTTER SONG, "ALIVE TONIGHT")
GRACE POTTER: (Singing) In the dark of the desert, I saw a man with a sign. It said people get ready 'cause it's all over. It's all going to end tonight. Well, I got a feeling we're going to be all right. But if this is the last time we ever see the daylight, we are, we are, we are alive tonight. Yeah. We are...
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: She is, she is, she is alive tonight and during all other parts of the day, apparently. One of the purposes of Grace Potter's new album is to prove that she is vividly alive, able to reproduce her old-school, dynamic rockstar concert presence in a recording studio. While some of her old band members appear on this new collection, it's officially her first solo effort. And one way you distinguish it from a Grace Potter and the Nocturnal's album is that it doesn't stay in a hard rock groove. Other genres are explored. Here, for instance - and I'm happy to say - Grace goes disco.
(SOUNDBITE OF GRACE POTTER SONG, "DELIRIOUS")
POTTER: (Singing) Can't sleep, I can't resist. The streetlights are so persistent. They keep calling out to me from the dark side of the city.
TUCKER: It is indeed fun to hear Potter apply her big blues-inflected voice to different styles and rhythms. She's spent her career thus far being compared to Janis Joplin and Grace Slick which, combined with her onstage wardrobe, allowed some to use the once standard term rock chick with less shame than accuracy. On this solo album, "Midnight," Potter tucks her one Joplin-like growly howl into the very conclusion of "Delirious." The rest of the time she and producer Eric Valentine cook up a lot of exceedingly catchy songs such as "Your Girl." It's Potter and Valentine's version of an old Janet Jackson, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis funk jam with a sisterhood-is-persuasive lyric. Potter decides not to break up a couple because she gets to know the guy's girlfriend and likes her too much to ruin their relationship.
(SOUNDBITE OF GRACE POTTER SONG, "YOUR GIRL")
POTTER: (Singing) I could make you mine. I'm so tempted to touch you. I'm dying to cross the line, but I like your girl too much. I never wanted to meet her, but you let me so you can't tempt me no more. You can't have it both ways, baby. So stop, stop making me burn. I wish I never met your girl. I wish I never met your girl 'cause I really like her. I wish I never met your girl...
TUCKER: "Your Girl" aside, one of Potter's limitations is that as a lyricist she has almost nothing to say other than variations on be true to yourself. The song called "Look What We've Become" asserts that despite all the odds we - that is, she and her audience - have become good, strong people with a rebel streak. Potter follows this with a song called "Instigators" in which she asserts that despite all odds we have become good, strong people with a rebel streak. Choosing between these two anthems of self-congratulation, I opt for "Instigators" which possesses the uncanny drive and hammyness (ph) of the opening number of a Broadway rock opera.
(SOUNDBITE OF GRACE POTTER SONG, "INSTIGATORS")
POTTER: (Singing) United we stand, divided we fall. It's time to crossover, shoulder to shoulder. Raise up your arms. Come one, come all. You got to cross over, shoulder to shoulder we blow on the coals in the cold of our souls as we crash in the hole. You, me, together we're going to be the instigators. Revolution loves company. We are the revelators...
TUCKER: One thing I like about Grace Potter is that she's a fairly disreputable act - no critic's darling. She courts a young, contemporary audience doing so with shameless anthem-like compositions. She has guest starred for the fun and business wisdom of it with country singer Kenny Chesney on cuts like 2010's "You And Tequila" and in concert covering songs by the Rolling Stones and Neil Young's so convincingly that she's been asked to open for both acts. She's shrewd without letting it curdle her music with cynicism.
(SOUNDBITE OF GRACE POTTER SONG, "THE MINER")
POTTER: (Singing) You got a hunger for my heart. You say there's diamonds in my eyes. And as I hold you in my arms, I let you bleed me dry. I don't understand what you do, why you hurt the one who loves you. I feel you mining in my bones. I feel you digging in my soul.
TUCKER: I like "Midnight" much more than any Grace Potter and the Nocturnals album because this solo project truly sounds like the break away from formula that it is. For once all the anthems of self empowerment are rooted in something real - an artistic and business move that captures that feeling of escaping what you're expected to be in favor of exploring what you could become.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed Grace Potter's solo album called, "Midnight." If you'd like to catch up on recent interviews you missed, like the one with writer Mary Karr in which she talked about writing memoirs and how to write about people she's loved without betraying them including her parents, her ex-husband and the late writer David Foster Wallace, check out our podcast. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.