Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers
San Francisco, CA
Lucinda Williams, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt
Nicki Bluhm’s smoky-smooth voice and laid-back alt-country stylings pay well-deserved homage to vintage blues and country-infused soul. Having played with the likes of Jackie Greene, Chris Robinson, Josh Ritter, Susan Tedeschi, Bob Weir, and many others, she’s on the rise and gaining traction behind a solid new album (“Driftwood”) that effectively showcases her broad musical range.
Even when she’s singing about a seemingly serious subject, Nicki Bluhm’s voice comes across as upbeat and positive without sounding too saccharinely sweet – an intriguing feat, in itself. The song “Women’s Prison” spins a potentially depressing yarn about a mother lamenting the fact that, due to a robbery gone wrong, her kids are being raised by someone else. Yet, the duet – sang with her husband Tim Bluhm, of the Mother Hips – has a certain toe-tapping grace to it backed by a whimsical slide guitar, and the effect is oddly uplifting.
Those familiar with the Austin music scene might be surprised to learn Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers are Bay-area residents, and hearing their version of “Want to Be Your Mama Again” might give them further pause. The song – written by the late, oft-anthologized Doug Sahm, who hailed from central Texas but also spent time in San Francisco, and covered by Austin acts like the Damnations TX – has a particular swinging-door saloon sound to it, backed by a light, airy piano and pleasantly undulating harmonies. This is feel-good music with deep-blues roots.
It’s been said that Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers are in the midst of a break-out year, and it’s hard to argue with the sentiment. A well-received new album, a national tour, a road stunt that turned into a viral YouTube sensation (check out their impromptu cover of Hall and Oates’ “I Can’t Go for That,” filmed in their van while rolling down the highway), and media props a-plenty (the New York Times recently called her out as a “rising singer-songwriter” to watch) – if you haven’t heard of them yet you likely will soon, and with good reason.