Grace Potter is not easily pigeonholed. The brassy singer learned how to play music by ear from movies and TV shows like Beavis and Butt-Head. (Really.) he and her band cut their teeth in the jam band scene, channeled the dusty blues of Bonnie Raitt and Susan Tedeschi on their first few major label albums and, in recent years, have dabbled in country and classic rock. A guest spot from Potter helped Kenny Chesney propel “You and Tequila” up the Billboard singles charts.
On The Lion The Beast The Beat, Potter and Co. flout convention as early as the opening track, which doubles as the band’s manifesto. Nearly two minutes of pounding drums and screeching strings back Potter, who wails, “I found the heart of a lion/ In the belly of the beat.” Then the tempo ramps up, the suspense crests — and the song explodes into a stampede with Led Zeppelin heft, ’80s metal riffs and symphonic flashes.
From there, the album mixes and matches styles with impunity. Stomping dance-rock (“Turntable” plays like a slicked-up version of Gossip’s early LPs) and sweltering bar blues (“Keepsake”) alternate with twangy indie (“Parachute Heart”) and country-pop (the splashy, piano-driven ballad “Stars,” torchy “Timekeeper”). The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach produced/co-wrote several songs, and while the vintage R&B shimmy “Loneliest Soul” certainly bears his hallmark, the galloping “Never Go Back” is an unexpected ’80s pop pastiche with confetti-disco rhythms and lyrics loaded with coquettish kiss-offs.
The Lion The Beast The Beat ends with two epic songs with very different outcomes. The lost-love ballad “One Heart Missing is a saccharine, overproduced number fit to accompany the unlucky lead of a cheesy rom-com. But the rolling-thunder rocker “The Divide” is bolder, detailing an adventurous leap of faith that springs from a quest for self: “If I don’t go/ How will I ever know/ What’s on the other side?.”
That quiet bravery of self-preservation permeates The Lion The Beast The Beat; even the album’s more somber moments never dwell in misery for too long. “We had a skydive love affair, doomed from the very start,” Potter croons on “Parachute Heart,” before stressing that her heartbreak has a cushion. “So you can pull my love to the wind, I’ll just float back to the ground with my parachute heart.”