Sunday, September 1, 2013

Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers

Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers
Little Sur CD LSR0004 (2013)
Mother Hips multi-instrumentalist Tim Bluhm and his singer-songwriter spouse Nicki Bluhm have performed together in a variety of contexts, on Nicki’s two solo albums, as an acoustic duo, and part of the California country tribute band Brokedown in Bakersfield, but they have seemingly hit the artistic and popular sweet spot with the Gramblers, who have moved quickly from relative obscurity to headliner status on the jam band circuit. The group’s initial, eponymous CD, is an apt showcase of the group’s strengths. The group’s blend of alt-country, rock, and soulful blues hinges on on solid, tuneful material most of which was penned by the two Bluhms, singly, as a duo, or in collaboration with bandmates and friends. Nicki Bluhm’s vocal range is impressive, sweet and soulful on tracks like the countrypolitan “Hey Stranger” and the Steve Poltz-penned soul ballad “Check Your Head,” but capable of a strong, sultry edge on the dramatic murder ballad “Ravenous” and the crunchy rocker “Little Too Late” that opens the set. The group’s instrumental chemistry is impeccable, with the solid rhythm section of Mike Curry’s powerful percussion and the smooth lines of ALO bassist Steve Adams meshing perfectly with Tim Bluhm’s keyboards and guitars, Deren Ney’s crisp, blues inflected leads, and Dave Mulligan’s rhythm guitar. Equally strong are the group’s vocals, with Nicki and Tim easily trading leads on “Always Come Back” and blending smoothly with Mulligan and Adams on “Deep Water.” With a warmly extroverted stage presence and a sly wit evidenced by the group’s viral “Van Sessions” youtube videos, Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers seem poised for bigger things, and their debut album will definitely aid them in that cause. 

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