Grace Potter’s formidable pipes helped turn her band the Nocturnals into one of rock’s brightest lights. She can belt heartily and coo seductively while displaying enough swagger to land her on the same bill as the Rolling Stones. On her first solo album, Midnight, she moves away from the Nocturnals’ blues-rock ideal toward a sinewy pop-rock with a swivel in its hip–think Sheena Easton circa the winking “Strut,” only with 21st century flourishes, like the occasional storming-army backing chorus.
Potter can still bellow, as evidenced by the whoops that close out the frenzied “Delirious,” but her supple voice is well suited to the move toward pop. The icy synths of “Instigators” provide a paranoid counterpoint to her sandpaper growl, while the cheatin’-heart lament “Your Girl” grapples with relationship ethics over a sensuous lite-funk bed. Midnight’s shift toward pop is nervy and refreshing, bringing to mind Paramore’s frothy, catchy self-titled album and lighter-than-air radio classics like Janet Jackson’s “Escapade.” But Potter retains enough bite to satisfy even diehard rock purists.
This appears in the August 24, 2015 issue of TIME.