Nicki Bluhm bares her soul in NYC
Nicki Bluhm at Bowery Ballroom NYC
On a wet and steamy New York City night, The Bowery Ballroom was dry and on fire as Nicki Bluhm’s To Rise You Gotta Fall tour came to town. On the high heels of major life changes, Nicki Bluhm’s low sultry voice, backed by her five piece band, oozed emotion and passion that drew you in to her three year old story. Having missed seeing her perform live with the Gramblers for many years, I was fortunate to see her sing with Phil Lesh and Friends late last year and was instantly a fan. Do you ever ponder why you are drawn to some musical performers, and then others not so much? Maybe it’s because of the vocals, maybe it’s the lyrics, maybe it’s just the mood you are in. In this case, whatever it is, these two experiences left me yearning to hear her voice again. Luckily when the tour was announced, NYC was on the schedule and I jumped at the chance to be front and center. That was two months ago, and I have been anxiously awaiting this night for what seems like forever. I was not disappointed, and, in fact, my expectations were exceeded 10 fold.
Nicki’s new album came out June 1st, which tells a personal story like a lot of the albums released in the 70’s. A vintage yet fresh spin on music these days, since most albums don’t have a common theme or story. Nicki’s persona and voice reminds me of a Linda Ronstadt / Janis Ian / Stevie Nicks combination that is unique and addicting. Her music is part Americana, singer/songwriter, soul, folk, and some country mixed in for good measure.The band has your usual instruments, plus keyboards and violin to create a rich full sound that enhances and envelopes Nicki’s beautiful vocals.
The songs on the album chronicle the breakup of her 10 year marriage, the end of a musical partnership with her ex-husband/bandmate Tim Bluhm, and dissolving her long time band The Gramblers. They were all written in Nashville, with the help of musician and friend Ryan Adams. That cathartic writing process only began after she separated herself from the friends, family, and memories of the only home state she had known in California, and moved her life to Tennessee. Nicki then headed down to the legendary Sam Phillips Recording Studio in Memphis to record the album with producer Matt Ross-Spang and a host of incredible musicians to lay down the tracks. An old proverb says that from every darkness comes light, if you allow it. Nicki has embraced the light and is surrounded by a shining aurora as she rediscovers herself, her music, and a new life.
Peter Oren, a singer-songwriter, opened up the night in fine fashion and was a huge surprise to me. Bestowed with an incredible rich yet low voice like a country singer, Peter captivated the audience with songs about the environment, travels on the road, and introspections about the country and where it’s headed.
A steel petal accompanied Peter’s dreamy voice, as well as an additional guitar, to give the songs depth and emotion. His second album, Antropocene, is a wonderful sophomore album after his debut Living By The Light came out to rave reviews. A refreshing change from what you hear on mainstream media these days and the music is even better live! Definitely worth a listen!
Nicki Bluhm’s set filled my heart with love, joy, optimism, and forgiveness. Having gone through my own personal breakup many years ago, I can totally empathize in what she has and is still going through. Nicki’s 14 song set consisted of her entire new album played in track order, plus a cover song and two “Gramblers” songs. There is nothing like listening to and seeing an album done cover to cover live. Songs weaving their way through the feelings, emotions, and music as the artist intended them to be heard.
From the opening notes of “How do I Love You”, a song about re-establishing marital communications to try and save the marriage, the beautiful Bowery Ballroom was bathed in red light as a testament to the heartache that was being felt in the music. Each subsequent song was as powerful as the last, another chapter in the story, and Nicki and her band passionately sharing the energy with the enthusiastic crowd. The last song of the album, “The Last to Know”, asks the question of why is one partner the last to know about the other’s feelings. A true question when in a long-term relationship as to why the “truth” is not being shared.
Nicki’s band was incredible. They were tight, musically gifted, lots of smiles and exchanges between all the members, and played with energy and fire the entire night.
playing the complete new album, Nicki went into a wonderfully passionate cover of Gerry Raffert’s “Right Down the Line” and then ended the show with two songs from her time with the Gramblers, “Ravenous” and “Little Too Late”. All the songs bunded nicely into the story she told.
After the show was over, there was long line to meet Nicki, get an autograph or selfie, and to buy some merchandise. I was the last in line so in the meantime, I chatted with some of the fans waiting. Most fans were from the tri-state area but some came as far as California and Colorado to see her. Many had been long time fans and they all really loved the new direction she had gone in. However, probably 25% were seeing Nicki for the first time. They carried on about their love for her music, her soulful singing, and how lucky we all were to see an amazing intimate show.. One person I met was part of the team from Paste Studios, where she performed a mini set in the city the day before. He raved about how the band sounded even when it was stripped down to an almost acoustic level. That is something I wish I would have seen live, but luckily they streamed it so the link is included below.
As the line to meet Nicki winded down, I was actually a bit nervous. I usually don’t get nervous meeting musicians, but for some reason tonight was different. Maybe it was the waves of emotion I was feeling from the show, maybe it was because I really dug her voice and singing style. Whatever it was, I kind of drew a blank when I got to the front, but I did stumble and mumble my way for a few minutes of conversation. I asked her how she was doing and Nicki replied “this whole process has been very cathartic for me and I’m healing a little bit every day but still have a long way to go.” We talked about marital breakups, how we need to rediscover ourselves and learn from our experiences, and how there are new and better things that await us… among other things. She was as honest and down to earth as her new album and I truly felt like I was talking to an old friend.
Nicki Bluhm’s tour continues down in Philly tonight and a few more stops on the East Coast in the next week before she heads back to TN. Luckily, I will be able to see her again as she will be joining Phil Lesh and The Terrapin Family Band for two shows in the NYC area in early September. Come join me for some amazing music! Her new album is available digitally but if you are looking for a high quality sound, buy the CD or better yet get the vinyl to hear this masterpiece in all its glory, sadness, raw emotion and healing powers. It’s great food for the soul.
Peace and love to you all.