Grace Potter’s ‘Mother Road’ is a candid work part-celebration, part-therapy which will resonate widely.
The Mother Road of the album’s title is the legendary Route 66 that ran from Chicago to Los Angeles as Grace Potter adopts Steinbeck’s sobriquet for the highway which sits at the heart of her new record.
Potter and family relocated from in California back to her hometown – Waitsfield, Vermont – a year into the Covid pandemic. The move proved difficult for Potter and this was compounded seriously when she suffered a miscarriage. Hard-hit by depression, she decided to reconnect with the freedom and sense of release her younger self had found on the road and flew back to California, collected her car and headed east.
‘Mother Road’ is a collection of songs where Potter is re-discovering, reliving and reimagining her past life. The songs were written on this trip and subsequent transcontinental journeys.
Subsequently, Potter and husband Eric Valentine headed to Nashville where the songs were recorded with Benmont Tench (keyboards), Nick Bockrath (guitars), Tim Deaux (bass), Dan Kalisher (pedal steel) and Matt Musty (drums). Valentine played several instruments and produced. The record’s coming together surprised Potter who said the “entire album fell out of me…. the blanks had been filled in”.
The title track which opens the album is a rock and soul tune capturing the motion and emotion of the journey with the sense of connection offset with apprehension “wherever I’m headed don’t let it be down”. The soulful backing vocals are all Potter multitracked – a feature throughout the record – which recall the Leon Russell/ Joe Cocker ‘Mad Dogs’ era. It’s followed by ‘Truck Stop Angels’ a choral coda recorded some distance from the microphones sounding like it’s on the radio. On the video it precedes ‘Mother Road’.
‘Ready Set Go’ kicks off in a funky groove and carries on down the road with several musical references as Potter meets a varied cast of characters. The uncertainty is still there “they say in the end all is forgiven but I say you haven’t me my ghosts” before closing with the more open “there’s nothing wrong with saying ‘no’ but try a little bit of ‘yes’.” It’s followed by ‘Good Time’ which harks backs to her early days on the road. Musically it owes a debt to the Rolling Stones, underlined by the lyrical reference to Bianca Jagger. The album flips to country style for ‘Little Hitchhiker’, a co-write with Natalie Hemby. The song is a cautionary tale of the dangers of being a lone woman travelling.
The opening to ‘Lady Vagabond’ is pure Ennio Morricone before the upbeat tale of the eponymous latter-day Western heroine unfolds with an underlying Western twang. ‘Rose Coloured Rearview’ renews the earlier funkiness supplemented with some sweet slide guitar. Potter juxtaposes the nostalgia for her old life with an acknowledgement that perspective can make that a bit one-sided.
Over a heavy beat Potter intones “all my ghosts are on the porch” as she revisits the dark side of her memories while confessing “I ain’t scared of my ghosts. The thing that scares me most is Me”. Opening with a rocking piano riff, the next track, ‘Futureland’ sets out the conflict that many feel between optimism for the opportunities that the future holds with the fear that the good times have been and gone. As Potter puts it ‘I wanna jump ahead, but I don’t dare. ‘Cause what if there’s nothing there?”
The album closer ‘Masterpiece’ comes as a bit of a surprise with its cabaret musical background and frank and funny tale of personal history growing up in the 1990s that reminded this reviewer of Amanda Palmer. Potter says it came about from the memories triggered by driving past her old high school on her return to Vermont. The masterpiece of the song is Potter herself with all the pieces of her story colours “in the palette of my ever-lovin’, never-done-in vagabond masterpiece”.
‘Mother Road’ is a candid work part-celebration, part-therapy which Potter has chosen to share with the world. Its themes will likely resonate with a wider audience who can hear it through the filter of their own experience.