Idiosyncratic Vermont-based singer-songwriter Grace Potter’s unlikely trajectory began in 2002 as part of the jam-band circuit and has gone on to include collaborations with artists as divergent as Kenny Chesney and the Black Keys. The diversity in Potter’s resume speaks to her artistic gifts and weaknesses. On her sixth release, “The Lion the Beast the Beat,” Potter credibly tackles different sounds and genres but never latches on to one that seems distinctly her own.
The album is a schizophrenic affair that showcases Potter’s ability as a multi-instrumentalist and powerhouse singer while also hinting a bit too clearly at a venal desire for mainstream acceptance. Songs such as the headache-inducing title track, a ‘70s-rock-style amalgam of big riffs and bellowing vocals, recalls war-horse acts like Heart at their worst. The mawkish “Stars” is equally tough to digest, feeling basely contrived to find a home in new country radio’s regular rotation.
Potter is capable of being exceptionally good. At her most beguiling, tracks such as the minor-key noir ballad “Timekeeper'” allow the full force of her vocals to roll out with an agreeable subtlety. That song, with its soul progression and death-is-closing-in sentiment (“I am too young / to be feeling this way”), evokes an atmosphere of heartsick, existential dread that would easily fit alongside the best of Neko Case.
This persistent tension between grit and gloss renders Potter’s work simultaneously intriguing and frustrating. One senses the important artist who lies just beneath the veneer of ready-made genre exercises, but it is equally possible to imagine her growing more generic. The latter approach might represent an easier route to commercial viability, but the extent of her very real talent would make that outcome a shame.