Grace Potter & the Nocturnals
The Lion the Beast the Beat
Producers: Jim Scott, Dan Auerbach
Release Date: June 12
An increasing number of fans picked up on Grace Potter & the Nocturnals during the course of the band's three previous studio albums. But a feature spot on Kenny Chesney's "You and Tequila" (which peaked at No. 3 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart) in 2010 turned Potter into the belle of the ball. Now, she and the band have brought out their musical finery to take advantage of the notoriety. "The Lion the Beast the Beat" is Potter and company going full throttle, never more so than on the galloping title track, an epic road song built on a tribal beat that would make Phil Collins proud. The group covers plenty of ground throughout the rest of the album, from the garage-y strains of "Keepsake" and the bluesy countenance of "Timekeeper" to the three-hanky "One Heart Missing" and the anthemic drama of "The Divide." It also features three indie-minded collaborations with the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach ("Never Go Back," "Loneliest Soul," "Runaway"). "The Lion the Beast the Beat" is Potter's richest and most fully realized release yet, an achievement deserving of a raised glass or two.
The Bravest Man in the Universe
Producers: Damon Albarn, Richard Russell
Release Date: June 12
R&B legend Bobby Womack's first album of new songs in 18 years marks not only a career revival, but also a new stylistic turn. Womack's recent collaborations with Gorillaz mastermind Damon Albarn relit the former's fuse, and Albarn follows through by co-producing "The Bravest Man in the Universe" with XL Recordings president Richard Russell, whose modernistic work on the late Gil Scott-Heron's final album, "I'm New Here" (2010), can't be ignored in this context. Albarn and Russell help conjure an electronic-based framework for Womack's soul-slathered vocals, which bear all the more gravitas for their well-weathered tone. Fans fixated on the Womack of the '70s, or even the '80s, will have to hear past the evolution of the production techniques, but it's an approach that the 68-year-old singer fully embraces. The set is anything but overproduced, sporting a mostly minimalistic feel. Guest spots by Lana Del Rey and Mali's Fatoumata Diawara and electronic arrangements notwithstanding, Womack's gritty, soulful sound is squarely at the heart of what we hope will turn out to be his comeback album.
Producers: Patti Smith, Tony Shanahan, Jay Dee Daugherty, Lenny Kaye
Release Date: June 5
"Banga," Patti Smith's first collection of new songs in nearly a decade, contains no shortage of the literary flair that drove her 2010 memoir, "Just Kids," to a National Book Award. In the song "Constantine's Dream" the veteran of New York's cutting-edge cultural scene delivers a lengthy soliloquy regarding the tension between art and nature, while "Trakovsky" offers a series of hauntingly memorable images, including a "bridge of magpies" and "the silver ladle of his throat." (In interviews Smith has singled out the work of Russian authors Mikhail Bulgakov and Nikolai Gogol as an inspiration here.) As writerly as Banga can be, though, the 12-track album also taps into the deep melodic well Smith fans know from '70s-era gems like "Because the Night" and "Redondo Beach." In "This Is the Girl" she even memorializes Amy Winehouse with a slow-rolling soul ballad that the late English singer might've admired. Not long into the album's buoyant lead single, "April Fool," Smith suggests "break[ing] all the rules" over gorgeously liquid guitar from Television's Tom Verlaine. Sounds like a plan to us.