Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers have not been on the scene for a long time, yet the meteoric rise of the group has been legendary. Leaping onto the national music circuit in 2012, they boasted a refreshing sound, spirited stage show and wellspring of good vibes. Now, the San Francisco-based band and its striking front woman with a girl-next-door demeanor have hit their stride with a luminous, heartfelt patchwork of California folk-rock, brisk Americana and show-stopping soul, punctuated with fresh four-part harmonies, crisp rock guitar and Bluhm’s soaring, nuanced vocals.
There is an evergreen quality to the band’s music that resonates with music lovers across ages and time zones, fans that are touched by the band’s natural, bright-eyed charm and timeless expression of life and love.
“We make music that generations of friends and families can share,” Bluhm says. “For me, there is a tenderness, a humanness. It’s about getting down to the basic level of bringing joy. We’re a fun, honest group of people who love traveling and seeing the country.”
Bluhm has a lot going for her. Her country-rock vocals recall the rootsy strut of Linda Ronstadt, while at the same time retaining a sweet and smooth quality. Her guitarist/husband, Tim Bluhm, is leader of longtime Bay Area indie-folk icons The Mother Hips, providing a built-in audience.
Tim and Nicki’s paths first crossed at a house party, when someone passed a guitar to her. At the time, she was living on a ranch in San Diego and taking care of horses. Though she’d never before sung in front of a crowd, she took a chance and belted out an impromptu blues number, immediately catching Tim’s ear. It was a spark-plug moment that evolved into the two playing music together, followed by Tim mentoring Nicki as she developed into a career singer/songwriter. As love blossomed and marriage ensued, so did the talent.
The storm of attention began to swirl around Bluhm. Forming The Gramblers, she called upon guitarist Deren Ney, a childhood friend since first grade. Together they mined a 70s AM radio glow, blending the golden country strains of Ronstadt’s one-time backing band, The Eagles, the sun-kissed jangle of the Bay Area’s folk-psych legacy, and Muscle Shoals soul. The playing is sharp and everyone contributes to the songwriting, though center stage frequently belongs to Bluhm’s simmering croon and its torchy swoon.
The Gramblers do a little bit of everything and with four songwriters in the band, they offer a diverse collection of songs. Bluhm’s smoky-smooth voice and laid-back alt-country stylings pay well-deserved homage to classic blues and country-infused soul. And, even when she’s singing about a seemingly serious subject, her voice comes across as upbeat and positive without sounding too saccharinely sweet.
Upon hearing her unique and refreshing sound, it becomes immediately clear why she is in the midst of a breakout year. Bluhm’s voice has filled a void in music with her brand of vintage-tinged rocking country soul — music that’s like an enchanting friend you’ve known for a short while but feels like you’ve known forever. In other words, it’s comfortable music.
Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers play the Crystal Bay Club on Sept. 1. For more information, visit crystalbaycasino.com. For more information on Nicki Bluhm, visit nickibluhm.com.
Sunday, Sept. 1 | 9 p.m. | $15 advance/$18 day of show | 21 & older | Crystal Bay Club | Crystal Bay, Nev.