The Globe and Mail
All blues and no play made for an unfulfilled Roxanne Potvin. Her smart and sassy new album Play, though, finds the Montreal-based artist pushing new buttons and continuing her evolution from a stylish, bluesy guitar slinger to a more tuneful pop-orientated performer. The disc’s dozen tunes are free-spirited and varied, with a catwalk-sauntering cover of an old Right Said Fred hit from 1992 revealing Potvin as too sexy for her blues (too sexy for her bilingual blues), but never repeating herself.
A taste of Roxanne Potvin playing the blues
The country-souled Barricades refers to Toronto’s cordoned-off G20 conference – “They can go to hell with their fences” – but it could just as easily apply to Potvin’s own stylistic walls. Same with the Nancy Sinatra-fashioned garage-rock plea of Let Me Go. “I had to explore, says the 29-year-old artist, whose lyrics are newly image-laden. “I could have continued in the blues niche, but I felt I had to follow that feeling to grow and do something else.”
Potvin’s evolution in songwriting mirrors her own expanding listening tastes. Her first two albums were marked by lady-sings-the-blues covers and relationship-based originals. “I was listening to blues and R&B, and I was learning to write,” she recalls. More recently she’s hip to Beck – check out the watery Coral Reef Fishes – and the Who. “I wanted to wreck my guitar like Pete Townshend,” says Potvin, who wrote and recorded demos in her kitchen. And so the racing swagger of Let Me Go culminates in a crashing heap of discord.
Vancouver’s Steve Dawson is a Juno-winning roots-music producer, not known for the like of Potvin’s radio-friendly Born to Win or the sublime haze of Donnes ton mal, let alone the romping Dis-moi que tu m’aimes. “I thought it would be interesting for both of us,” Dawson says. “Short pop tunes is not something I normally do.” The trick was to encourage Potvin’s adventurism without calling too much attention to it. “I wanted to keep an organic approach to the process. I think the integrity and honesty of the music comes through regardless.”
The Cover Tune
Potvin considered a version of Siouxsie and the Banshees’ Swimming Horses, but settled on a sex-kitten reading of I’m Too Sexy. “Steve [Dawson] asked me if I really wanted to do it,” Potvin says of her unlikely choice. “He thought everybody would talk about that song and skip over the rest.” As it turned out, the cheeky cover worked, but not to any overshadowing effect. The rest of the material is simply too good for that.