The debut album from Potter’s Daughter presented some great jazz sounds. Between a heavy piano and a confident upright bass, the record’s best tunes recalled bits of Dave Grusin and other GRP label heavyweights, as well as hinting at a retro sound fully explored by Stanton Moore on his ‘Conversations’ album from 2014. Although ostensibly a jazz/fusion record, the presence of fuzzy electric guitars stepping forth for the odd solo or three and a huge focus on floaty, harmonic vocals lent the arrangements something more amenable to the more adventurous prog fan. The album led to the band being invited to play at various festivals throughout 2020, but the world had other plans.
Returning to the studio, Potter’s Daughter carved out more new music, which resulted in the ‘Casually Containing Rage’ EP. An effective stop-gap, its three tunes look backwards and forwards simultaneously. The lead track ‘To My Love’ is actually a re-recording – and dramatic re-imagining – of one of the key tracks from 2018’s ‘The Blind Side’. Whereas the original recording sounded like a musical collision between an easy jazz band and an old Mark Knopfler guitar part, its 2020 equivalent is far more prog-oriented. The first verse dispenses with the jazzy elements and places a thinner sounding vocal over shimmering new-age sounds. Given time to grow, the track then takes a turn into solid prog rock where a solid rhythm driven by a hard and funky bass underscores a call and response vocal. The way the backing vocals are used is very much in the style of something Jon Anderson might have experimented with in the 90s and beyond – quite fitting, since he’s said to be a fan – before the track descends into pure new age floatiness where multi-tracked vocals evoke an old Renaissance piece which, again, best befits a band who’ve previously worked with the legendary Annie Haslam.
A social anthem for 2020, ‘We Could Be’ shares a message of “compassion not destruction” delivered by pure pop harmonies. At the outset, a great vocal sits atop a minimalist backdrop of electronica. Adding jazz piano into the mix, everything slowly feels a little more like the Potter’s Daughter you’d expect, before a Bob James-esque noodle reminds you once and for all that this experimental act have some very retro roots. If anything makes a lasting impression, though, its the presence of a lyric that casts aside the gently fantastical for something far more pointed. “How can we be free?” asks vocalist Dyanne Potter Voegtlin, not too long after we’ve been immersed in news samples covering the George Floyd murder, while a repeated refrain of “we could be better than this” casts both guilt and anger in a way that is truly moving.
Those tracks bring plenty of enjoyment, but for the more casual listener, it’s the inclusion of a cover tune that’ll be of the most interest. Joining the original compositions – whether brand new or re-jigged – Potter’s Daughter’s take on the Warren Zevon classic ‘Accidentally Like A Martyr’ is just lovely. Always one of Zevon’s strongest melodies, it’s been stripped down to its core with a soaring vocal crying over strident piano chords and a gentle beat. If you aren’t taken by it immediately, at least stick around for the instrumental interlude, where a jazz inflected guitar adds a wonderful echoing melody. A fine version of an old favourite, it’s easy to imagine something similar in the hands of Linda Ronstadt. Since Linda covered Zevon a few times in the 70s, it’s a mystery why she never tackled this – it sounds almost tailor-made for her… Whatever, it’s great to have a different perspective here.
Although only running to three tracks, this release manages to give a broad overview of Potter’s Daughter’s variety of sounds. It’s much lighter on their more obvious jazz traits, but if that brings in a few more listeners who enjoy prog and adventurous music but somehow still remain “jazz ignorant” (you know who you are), then it’s all to the good. If, however, you find yourself enjoying this recording – and perhaps more than you expected – then backtracking to ‘The Blind Side’ is strongly advised.