Nicki Bluhm – To Rise You Gotta Fall Tour
A Rising Talent Forges Her Own Path
by: Brooke Billick
Dealing with failed relationships is hard. When faced with the end of a marriage or other intense personal relationship, people struggle, grieve, cope and, ultimately, move on in many different ways. For Bay Area singer-songwriter Nicki Bluhm, that process involved what seems to come naturally to her—expressing her emotions through her music.
The impetus and inspiration for Nicki Bluhm’s June 2018 solo release, To Rise You Gotta Fall, was the realization that her marriage to husband and musical partner, Tim Bluhm, was ending. The songs for her album were written during the time her marriage began failing through her divorce almost two years ago.
On Friday, November 9, Nicki performed in support of her album at Milwaukee’s historic Shank Hall, an intimate venue that has hosted a wide range of artists over the past 28 years. Appearing in a smaller cabaret environment fostered a close interaction with the audience, with Bluhm warmly responding to individual shout-outs. The show took on a feel almost like a series of personal conversations.
Until a few years ago, Nicki Bluhm’s musical career had been defined by her relationship with Tim Bluhm, through his encouragement and guidance early on and continuing through their collaboration and touring with The Gramblers. As her marriage was ending, Bluhm sought a clean slate and a new start, moving from San Francisco to Nashville. This led to her forming new connections and partners who were key to the writing, recording and production of her album.
Bluhm has been quite open publicly about her life’s transitions, including her journey from her comfort zone in the Bay Area to the newness and unknowns of Nashville. In Nicki’s words, the journey has been predominantly an inner journey more than a physical one, which will continue for the rest of her life. Perhaps this can be aptly described as her metamorphosis, much as a caterpillar changes into a butterfly.
Bluhm brought the emotion and passion of her journey to her fans in Milwaukee. Backed by a new band, her songs described the stages of a broken relationship. In How Do I Love You, she sings about a last attempt to save a relationship:
How do I love you?
Can you draw me a map?
Show me a sign so we can make our way back
I wanna find my way home
In the song, Things I’ve Done, Bluhm remembers the steps she has taken, to no avail:
I sang all of your songs
Got a band and took my whiskey strong
Played the bars while all along
You were leaving me behind
And, ultimately, as so many may wonder in a failed relationship, she asks this question in her song, Last to Know:
You were looking for a reason to walk out the door?
Drifting on a river of tears I’ve been here before
Put on a smile and you put on a show
Bluhm sings in a smooth, sweet voice reflecting her personality. Within that voice, though, there is an undercurrent of raw emotion and a sense of vulnerability that draws the audience into her world.
For Nicki, songwriting is a cathartic experience helping her to overcome past heartaches. The pain is still there, but the grieving appears to be passing. As she suggested throughout her set, including in her signature song, To Rise You Gotta Fall, a little pain may be necessary in order to grow.
When you walk into the garden gate
You’re bound to get bit by a snake
Guess you don’t know love without a little heartache
To Rise You Gotta Fall was recorded, mixed and produced by Matt Ross-Spang at Sam Phillips Recording in Memphis. Co-writing credits go to Ryan Adams, Steve Poltz, Simon Gugala, Scot Sax and Matt Ross-Spang.
Gill Landry opened for Nicki Bluhm. Landry, a Grammy award winning former member of Old Crow Medicine Show, brought his unique style of song writing to the show. Landry sang songs from his most recent release, Love Rides a Dark Horse, an album that he describes as an attempt to shine a light on his various traps and sorrows as well as explore their emotional depth.
Many artists find their inspiration from their personal experiences. It takes a truly brave one to lay bare the pain of her past for all to see.
Nicki Bluhm is finding her strong, independent voice, building herself up and giving herself the courage and confidence to move on—one song, one show, one town at a time. It’s clear from her interaction with a warm, enthusiastic crowd on a chilly Milwaukee night that she has come a long way and will continue to be successful. Paraphrasing from a recent interview, we can say “Good job, Nicki!”
Catch her journey!
Nicki and her band have a few more shows in her fall tour, ending on November 30 in an appearance with The Coffis Brothers back in the Bay Area at Terrapin Crossroads, the venue founded by her close friend, Phil Lesh.