Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers: Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers

nicki bluhm

Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers
Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers
(Little Sur)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

The debut from comely singer/songwriter Bluhm with her road hardened Gramblers –she had two previous titles under her own name—is a modest melodic gem. The group’s easy grooving roots pop neatly combines the rustic vibe of the Band with the more polished approach of Buckingham/Nicks era Fleetwood Mac. Add early Eagles, especially in the backing male harmonies, to solidify the West Coast sound for an album that succeeds because it doesn’t try too hard.

Bluhm sure can bring it vocally. There’s just enough husky Dusty Springfield in her voice especially on the Memphis soul of “Deep Water,” but she’s careful not to over sing. Likewise the five piece Gramblers, led by Bluhm’s husband/multi-instrumentalist Tim, keep the sound full yet restrained, allowing the melodies and Bluhm room to breathe. The music is deceptively simple and goes down as easy as sweet tea on a hot summer’s day. It’s never slick or overly studied and even on the first spin, it feels like you’ve heard these songs before.

Feature: Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers, Highway Songs

If you’re of a certain age, maybe that was on ’70s radio. Think of the smooth, sunshiny, organic approach of Seals & Crofts, the Doobie Brothers, Firefall, Wendy Waldman and Linda Ronstadt who Bluhm slightly resembles, for an easy reference. A bit of blues rock ruffles some tunes such as the slide guitar pushing “Hold Your Breath” into Southern rock soil. That urges the singer to color outside of her more reserved lines and brings the Gramblers closer to their rough and tumble name. Ditto for the R&B ballad “Check Your Head” that draws inspiration from 60s Chicago soul.

Nothing explodes out as a focus track and occasionally the Gramblers seem to be hemmed in by a few too many pleasant yet nondescript tunes. Still, this is a thoroughly enjoyable, slightly retro set that could have been a perfect beach disc if it was released before the summer rather than at the end of it.

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