Album Reviews

Sarah Potenza


Artist:     Sarah Potenza

Album:     Monster

Label:     Snax

Release Date:     08/19/2016


Viewing the album art, Sarah Potenza creates a rather foreboding presence, with her big white glasses, all modes of neckwear and her long, black feathered military jacket.  It also suggests some powerful stuff which she forcefully delivers.  Okay, maybe you don’t need to guess what she sounds like because she made it to top twenty of 50,000 contestants on NBC’s “The Voice.”   She’s appeared on Music City Roots, is a regular at Nashville’s Bluebird Café, and has played the Grand Ole Opry to standing ovations.  Based now in Nashville, Potenza hails from Smithfield, RI where her band, Sarah & The Tall Boys, held down many New England gigs, becoming a fixture at the Charleston’s Rhythm & Roots Fest.

She has a bluesy, evocative voice that can floor you.  Paired with producer and ace guitarist Joe V. McMahan, this debut of sorts finds Sarah and her songwriting husband, Ian Crossman, laying down a bluesy, soulful, rocking tough set of mostly originals.  They also cover John Fogerty’s “Run Through the Jungle,” and Gillian Welch’s “Valley of Tears” in stirring fashion.    McMahan also contributes bass, keys, backing vocals, and percussion.  Other musicians include Michael Webb (Pistol Annies, Will Hoge) on piano/keyboards and Josh Hunt (Alison Krauss) on drums. Potenza leads with vocals and rhythm guitar, while  Crossman rounds out the sound with the baritone guitar.  Unlike too many so-called female powerhouses who try so hard that they come across as overwrought, Potenza sounds totally natural.  She has plenty of power but the songs are damn tough, too.  She may remind you of Caitlin Krisko of the Broadcast or Colleen Rennison of No Sinner.  John Oates described her voice as a modern Americana version of Janis Joplin.

Even Potenza’s mom will talk endlessly about the hard sacrifices and lean living Potenza had growing up.  Potenza says, “This album is about my journey from imitation to creation. I set out to make this album because I wanted to let off some steam, I wanted to commiserate with people about the struggle and frustration that comes with being human, that comes from trying your hardest and coming up short.  I wanted to tell myself to keep going. In fact, some of the songs are just a pep talk to nobody but me, and they took on a whole new life when I shared them with people.”

Those elements imbue these songs – the angst and hard-earned wisdom of someone only in her mid-thirties – putting it all into every note. This is irresistible music that’s sure to garner plenty of airplay with tunes like “The Mountain,” “The Cost of Living,” and the title track.  Tunes like “Up on the Third Floor” and “Grandad” seem autobiographical, but maybe because they offer both quiet and forceful dynamics, accented by background vocalists, they do an even better job of showcasing her talent.   Whether you’re new to Potenza or not, you need to hear this voice which has the power not only to move you. She might heal you too.

Potenza has been on tour all summer but here some upcoming dates where you may catch her live:

  • 8/26-Family Wash -Nashville, TN
  • 9/1-The Met -Pawtucket, RI
  • 9/3-Rhythm and Roots Festival, Charlestown RI
  • 9/22-Americana Music Conference Showcase, Nashville, TN

– Jim Hynes

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