Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers self-titled debut album delivers the same comfortable groove the band brings onstage.
The comfort is a residue of authenticity from a close group that is a musical blend of veteran and relative newcomers, including the lead singer, Bluhm, who said she feels at ease fronting players who have much more experience. Her husband is Tim Bluhm, the longtime band leader of the Mother Hips.He
“It’s because they have been so supportive and encouraging, so it feels really natural,” Nicki Bluhm said. “Tim really was the first person to really push me down this path in the first place. There’s a lot of trust. I believe that they believe in me. It makes it easier to believe in myself.”
Released today, “Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers” was mostly recorded in the spring. Two singles, however, came out in January, “Ravenous” and “A Little Too Late,” the latter getting air time on Sirius radio’s “Jam On.” While this is considered the band’s debut record, it is the third for Nicki Bluhm.
“The first was “Toby’s Song” (2008) before the band was formed, it was Tim and I,” Bluhm said. “Mostly Tim playing pretty much everything on that record. So we developed the band because of that record at the release party. We wanted the show to sound like the record, so that’s why we put the band together in the first place.
“The second record (“Driftwood,” 2011), we had some of the Gramblers on it but we also had some studio musicians. It was less about the Gramblers and more about just finding the right people to play for the style that Tim wanted. So this is the first time the Gramblers have solely played on the album. Now Dave Mulligan’s in the band, so he got to play and sing on it.”
Mulligan plays guitar, Daren Ney is on lead guitar, Mike Curry is on drums and Steve Adams bass. Adams and the Bluhms also have a band called Brokedown in Bakersfield.
“Tim and Mike and Steve have been doing this for a very long time, so they are very seasoned,” Bluhm said. “But Dave, Daren and I are pretty much beginners, so it’s a nice contrast to have both sides of the coin in the band and we can all learn a lot from each other.”
While most of the band contributed to the songwriting, Brokedown in Bakersfield’s Scott Law co-wrote a tune with Tim Bluhm.
San Diego’s Steve Plotz wrote “Check Your Head.” Plotz is best known for writing Jewel’s early hits, but his band from the 1990s, the Rugburns, is revered by those who saw them.
“He’s an amazing songwriter, so we were stoked when he showed us his song, and we fell in love with it and it’s one of my favorite songs on the album,” Bluhm said.
The current single from the new album is “Hey Stranger,” which as a pedal steel guitar and country feel. Bluhm herself wrote “Nothin,’ which is a gospel-blues song.
Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers’ storytelling style has been described as California folk, roots rock and country. The broadest description would be Americana, and while most artists don’t like to have their music categorized, Bluhm either doesn’t mind or is just too affable to be contrary to a reporter’s statement.
“I think it’s hard to classify the kind of music that you make, especially us because we have a lot of different styles and influences,” she said. “So, yeah, I think Americana probably captures it the best. It’s the most used catch-all phrase, so I would say that’s accurate.”
Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers perform Sunday, Sept. 1 in the Crystal Bay Casino.
Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers
Buy the album: CD