Tag: Nicole Atkins

Interview: A Q&A with Nicki Bluhm

Over the past few months, I’ve written a bit about  Lafayette, CA-born, Nashville, TN-based singer/songwriter and guitarist Nicki Bluhm, and although she began her career as a solo artist releasing two albums, 2008’s Toby’s Song and 2011’s Driftwood (which was re-released a year later), Bluhm may be best known for a six year stint as the frontwoman of Nicki Blum and The Gramblers, an act that included her ex-husband Tim Bluhm, with whom she also released a duet album, aptly titled Duets in 2011. Interestingly, Bluhm’s Matt Ross-Spang-produced full-length effort To Rise You Gotta Fall was released earlier this year, and the album, which is her first solo album in over six years was primarily written in and influenced by one of the most difficult and life-altering experiences of her life — a period in which she got divorced and her band went on hiatus. She then followed that with a seemingly spur of the moment move to Nashville.

Bluhm, who has frequented Music City for a number of songwriting sessions was deeply inspired by her time in the city, and how could she or any songwriter not be? After all Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Reba McEntire, Townes Van Zandt and dizzying list of songwriters have all claimed Nashville as a homebase at some point or another. “When I could come to Nashville on writing trips, it was just percolating . . . it was intoxicating,” Bluhm says in press notes. Around the same time, Bluhm met renowned producer, engineer and mixer Matt Ross-Spang, who was in town working on another album, and as the story goes, Ross-Spang and Bluhm quickly hit it off. “I really needed someone who was going to take the reins and have a vision for the album and he really did,” Bluhm says of meeting Ross-Spang. “My ex-husband had been my musical director, co-writer, and producer on all my records except one and I was looking for someone to step into that leadership roll, which Matt did very gracefully. I was looking for a clean slate; the only baggage I wanted to bring into the studio were the words to the songs I was singing. I wanted it to be a fresh experience; I didn’t want to even have history with anyone in the room that would pull me into old habits or ways of thinking.  So we agreed we’d record in Memphis.”

1522343046NB.SamPhilips_NoahAbrams.jpg
Photo Credit: Noah Abrams
1522343021NB1_NoahAbrams.jpg
Photo Credit: Noah Abrams

1522268571nikki.jpgRecorded at Sam Phillips Recording, the Rise You Gotta Fall sessions were primarily centered around the live tracking of a backing band of accomplished musicians that included Will Sexton (guitar), Ross-Spang (guitar), Ken Coomer (drums, percussion), Al Gamble (Hammond B3), Rick Steff (piano), Dave Smith (bass), Reba Russell (backing vocals), Susan Marshall (backing vocals), Sam Shoup (string arrangements) and a number of special guests. “We really just recorded live and we didn’t do that many takes of each song,” Bluhm says of the sessions. “The final versions we ended up with were all one take. It was really refreshing to go analog. It minimized over thinking and second-guessing; forced us all to stay in the moment and play from the heart. . . Throughout the session there was a lot of listening and trusting. Matt really spends time curating his sessions and who he decides to bring in; he knows how to keep the vibe right. What you are hearing is, as Jerry Phillips would say, ‘not perfection but captured moments in time.’” Bluhm adds, “These songs are quite personal. They are the conversations I never got to have, the words I never had the chance to say, and the catharsis I wouldn’t have survived without.”

 

“I had lost my partner in so many ways,” Bluhm recalls in press notes, “my musical partner, my life partner, my creative partner, and all of a sudden I was left on my own, to start my own engine. It was really intimidating and scary,” she says “but I had support from my management, my agent, my friends and family, and ultimately I just had this guttural drive that I didn’t even know I had in me. I was on auto-pilot, ready to move forward and take the steps I had to take to keep moving forward.” Unsurprisingly, album title track, “To Rise You Gotta Fall” is an effortlessly self-assured track that’s indebted to Memphis and Muscle Shoals-era soul, and as a result the single reminded me quite a bit of Nicole Atkins‘ Goodnight Rhonda Lee and Natalie Prass, thanks to a “you-are-there-in-that moment” immediacy and a fully-fleshed out narrator, who has the resiliency and determination that comes from living a complex, messy life, full of struggles, heartbreak, setbacks, small victories and crushing losses. And as the song points out, life will find a way to kick your ass in ways both large and small — and yet, you’ll always wind up in the exact place you needed to be at that particular moment.  

To Rise You Gotta Fall‘s second single is the aching ballad “Battlechain Rose,” which was co-written by renowned singer/songwriter Ryan Adams and as Bluhm told American Songwriter, the song was inspired by a restless night in which her mind wouldn’t stop turning with thoughts of the past, of what she could have and should have done differently, of her inability to move forward and of her despair of knowing that relationship has become a phantom limb of regret and heartache. Coming from such a personal place, the album’s material thematically and lyrically focuses on the aftermath of the messy dissolution of a longtime relationship — there’s hurt, accusations, betrayal, anger, hatred and foolishness and yet, the album’s narrator won’t let an embittering situation change her, her outlook or anything about who she essentially is. It’s the strength and wisdom I’ve seen primarily in women, who after a breakup with someone can say “Yes, it hurts. I will cry until my heart burst — and then I’ll cry a bit more. But I’ll be okay.  I’ve seen better and I’ve seen worse; but goddamn it, I won’t be fooled like that again.”

I recently spoke to Nicki Bluhm via email for this Q&A, and in typical fashion we chatted about a number of subjects — from how she got into music, her influences, how her creative process has changed with her latest album, how the writing of the album has been necessary for her mental health, writing with Ryan Adams, her tour earlier this year with The Wood Brothers and much more. But before we get to that, I will remind you that Bluhm has been touring with a backing band to support To Rise You Gotta Fall and the tour includes a July 25, 2018 stop at the Bowery Ballroom. Check out the remaining tour dates below — and then one of the most fun and honest interviews I’ve done in some time after the jump.

Tour Dates 

July 13 – Atlanta, GA @ Atlanta Botanical Gardens
July 14 – Charlotte, NC @ Knight Theater
July 19 – Scranton, PA @ Peach Music Festival
July 20 – Alexandria, VA @ Hamilton
July 22 – Cambridge, MA @ The Sinclair
July 25 – Floyd, VA @ FloydFest
July 25 – New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
July 26 – Philadelphia, PA @ The Foundry
July 29 – Nashville, TN @ 3rd & Lindsley

 

 

___

WRH: How did you get into music — and when did you know it was your calling?

Nicki Bluhm: I started singing in the shower at a very early age…for my goldfish Ginger who lived in the bathroom. She had the pleasure of hearing me perfect ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ over many years of steamy rehearsals. Beyond that it was a very organic pathway. In my twenties I was encouraged to sing by a man I admired and respected musically and that encouragement brought me to where I am today; writing, singing and performing my songs. The sheer joy and catharsis that singing brings me is enough to know that it’s what I’m meant to be doing right now.

WRH: Who are your influences?

NB: There are so many. As a young girl growing up on 80’s radio, Whitney Houston‘s voice made a big impression and mesmerized me like no other. I studied every note she sang. As I got older I was turned on to other musicians like Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell, Linda Ronstadt and Sandy Denny (to name a few.) I have so much admiration for these women and the mark they have left and continue to leave on me.

WRH: Who are you listening to now?

NB: I have a habit of listening to the same records over and over and over. I started collecting vinyl in my late teens and 20’s and bought a lot of cheap records which turned out to be mostly records recorded pre 1970. I could listen to JJ Cale non-stop for the rest of my life and be satisfied. That said, I am trying to listen to more contemporary music. Some of my favorite artists right now are Mapache, Khruangbin, and Hiss Golden Messenger.

WRH: You spent a lengthy stint with your ex-husband in The Gramblers and To Rise You Gotta Fall is your first solo album in about 7 years or so. Hopefully, it’s the first of many, many, many more. How has your creative process changed since then?

NB: For the first time I went outside my comfort zone in all ways imaginable. I co-wrote with strangers in Nashville, recorded with a new producer (Matt Ross-Spang) and musicians I had never met in Memphis and basically forced myself to let go of anything familiar so I could invite new energy into what I was doing.

WRH: I’ve listened to this album quite a bit — maybe 15-16 times since its release, and what I find remarkable is that there’s an unmistakable simpatico between you, the session players and the backing vocalists. I know you had met producer and guitarist Matt Ross-Spang before the sessions but curiously, did you know any of the session players before that?

NB: First of all, THANK YOU! It’s funny, I felt that same “simpatico” right off the bat with the musicians and strangely enough I had never met them. Sometimes the stars align and fate brings you exactly what you need. That’s how I felt about this recording session and everyone involved. There is no denying it was meant to be.

 WRH: Part of the album is influenced by your relocation to Nashville. How has Nashville treated you?

NB: What I love about Nashville is that you don’t have to explain what it is you do to anybody. Everyone just gets it. That has been a nice shift for me. The only downside is that because everyone is in the industry it’s tough to develop friendships because we’re all gone on tour all the time!

WRH: Nashville has had a long and rich history of some incredible songwriters who have lived there at some point. I can’t imagine any songwriter not being in awe of the fact that Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings walked down some of the streets they did or drank in some of their favorite bars. The city is also the home of JOVM mainstay Nicole Atkins, Ron Gallo and a long list of contemporary artists — but I was curious: are there any Nashville-based artists that the rest of the country should know but hasn’t yet?

NB: Funny you mention Nicole…we are actually texting right now…haha. There are SO many incredibly talented artists in Nashville. In my short time here I have barely scratched the surface. I was lucky enough to co-write with an incredible songwriter Simon Gugala. Writing with him has been a highlight for me here so far. I also love going to Santa’s Pub for the Sunday night country set that is put on by Carter Brallier. He had a gal by the name of Emily Nenni who just put out a record called Hell of a Woman. I haven’t listened to the record yet but her live performance was impressive and I dug her voice and vibe.

WRH: The album is deeply influenced by one of the most difficult periods of your life — with the songs detailing the sense of loss, hatred, betrayal, regret and heartache that often come about after the bitter end of a long term and significant romantic relationship, and the resolve to move on as best as you could. To me, there’s a bit of a hopeful undertone — that the song’s narrators will do more than just survive, that she’d be the type to thrive no matter what. While the album is centered within personal, it’s a universal experience. Curiously, was there any point when you were writing the album, that you may have been like “wait, maybe this is TMI?” or said “I can’t wait until that SOB hears this!”?

NB: Honestly, writing these songs saved me. I can’t tell you how important it was for me to get these ruminating thoughts out of my head. It was something I needed to do for my mental health. People have different ways of coping with trauma; what helps me is writing. I had no intention of being spiteful in the process but I had to speak my truth and remain authentic to myself and my experience. Music has helped me get through so many difficult periods of my life, it’s made me feel less alone in my struggles. This record and these songs are my contribution to that sentiment. If hearing what I went through brings someone comfort, I have accomplished what I set out to do.

WRH: The album features two co-writes with Ryan Adams, if I remember it correctly. How did that come about? How was like to work with him?

NB: We became friends through mutual admiration and began working together on some stuff. There is no rhyme or reason to the way Ryan operates. Our time together was spontaneous and could never be repeated but I am forever grateful for the songs that came out of our time together. He has a way of pulling words from the ether like no one I’ve ever known before.

WRH: “Battlechain Rose,” is one of those Ryan Adams co-writes. How did the concept for the video come about?

NB: My dear friend and neighbor Scot Sax is also an incredible singer/songwriter, video producer, and everything else creative (if there is such a thing as artistic ADD he has it) and when I played him the song his wheels started turning. When Scot has a vision he executes it and that’s what he did for the music video. We were exploring the dimensions between reality and dream realms; past and future; knowing and the unknown. The contrast of color and black and white was a way to address this dynamic. The younger heart being guided and nurtured by her predecessor.  here is a lot of symbolism that is left to be interpreted by the viewer.

WRH: I saw you open for The Wood Brothers at The Vic Theatre in Chicago back in April. That was a fantastic show, too. You played a solo set in which you accompanied yourself on guitar with stripped down versions of much of the album’s material before touring with a live, backing band throughout the summer. Was it particularly difficult to re-arrange songs in such a stripped down fashion from their recorded fashion? And after playing with a backing band for many years, was it nerve wracking to be out on a stage on your own?

 NB: Yes! I could sing in front of thousands of people and not bat an eye but put a guitar in my hands and I become a deer in headlights. It was something I needed to get over; something I needed to prove to myself I could do alone. It was important for me to face that fear and get past it. I’m a pretty big proponent of doing things that scare you; I’ve been scaring myself a lot these past few years. But once you’re on the other side of fear and you see that something wasn’t so scary after all, you’re motivated to keep striving and putting yourself out there. Growing is hard and painful…not much different than the physical growing pains you had as a kid. Growing pains as an adult are more emotional but none the less real!

WRH: “Things I’ve Done” is a one of my favorite songs on the album. To my ears, it sounds as though it were influenced by Bonnie Raitt in some way — I think of “Something to Talk About,” in particular. Did her work influence anything on the album?

 NB: That was a song I co-wrote with Scot Sax (mentioned earlier) and Steve Poltz (both my neighbors in Nashville.) Bonnie Raitt is certainly a huge influence on me but interestingly enough was not on my mind during the creation process of this song. Perhaps she was subconsciously…the subconscious is powerful. What I love about her is the ease and naturalness she brings to whatever she does. It’s possible that Scot was channeling her but you’d have to ask him about that.

WRH: How was it like to tour and play with The Wood Brothers?

NB: Aside from being incredible musicians, The Wood Brothers are some of the kindest musicians I have met in the business. They took such great care of me when I was out with them and every night they invited me out on stage to sing with them which was a true honor. They are such humble and relatable humans, I feel so grateful to call them friends.

WRH: What’s next for you?

NB: Touring my ass off! It’s time to take these songs on the road and share them with the world. We’re doing extensive touring this summer in the US and will be going overseas this fall. All the while writing new songs as I continue to feel all the feels life has to offer me at this stage in my life. I’m curious to see what songs come out of me next!

 

 

 

 

New Video: The Gorgeous Visuals for Nicki Bluhm’s Heartbreaking and Tender Ballad “Battlechain Rose”

Nicki Bluhm is a Lafayette, CA-born, Nashville, TN-based singer/songwriter, who’s perhaps best known for a six year stint as the frontwoman of Nicki Blum and The Gramblers, an act that included her ex-husband Tim Bluhm with whom she also released two collaborative albums as a solo artist. Now, if you’ve been frequenting this site over the past few months, you may recall that her recently released, Matt Ross-Spang-produced full-length effort To Rise You Gotta Fall marks the Bluhm’s first solo album in several years, and that the album’s material was influenced by and written one the course of one of the most difficult and life-altering transitions of her life — a period in which she got divorced, The Gramblers went on hiatus and she then followed that all with a seemingly spur of the moment move to Nashville. “These songs are quite personal,” Bluhm says in press notes “They are the conversations I never got to have, the words I never had the chance to say, and the catharsis I wouldn’t have survived without.”

Interestingly, while Bluhm’s relocation to Nashville was a spur of the moment decision, it was influenced by a series of writing sessions that had her frequenting the city. As Bluhm says the city was inspiring  “because of all the songwriting going on here. When I could come to Nashville on writing trips, it was just percolating . . . it was intoxicating.” Around the same time, Bluhm met renowned producer, engineer and mixer Matt Ross-Spang, who was in town working on another album, and as the story goes, Ross-Spang and Bluhm quickly hit it off. “I really needed someone who was going to take the reins and have a vision for the album and he really did,” Bluhm says of meeting Ross-Spang. “My ex-husband had been my musical director, co-writer, and producer on all my records except one and I was looking for someone to step into that leadership roll, which Matt did very gracefully. I was looking for a clean slate; the only baggage I wanted to bring into the studio were the words to the songs I was singing. I wanted it to be a fresh experience; I didn’t want to even have history with anyone in the room that would pull me into old habits or ways of thinking.  So we agreed we’d record in Memphis.”

Recorded at Sam Phillips Recording, the Rise You Gotta Fall sessions were primarily centered around the live tracking of a backing band of accomplished ringers that included Will Sexton (guitar), Ross-Spang (guitar), Ken Coomer (drums, percussion), Al Gamble (Hammond B3), Rick Steff (piano), Dave Smith (bass), Reba Russell (backing vocals), Susan Marshall (backing vocals), Sam Shoup (string arrangements) and a number of special guests. “We really just recorded live and we didn’t do that many takes of each song,” Bluhm says. “The final versions we ended up with were all one take. It was really refreshing to go analog. It minimized over thinking and second-guessing; forced us all to stay in the moment and play from the heart. . . Throughout the session there was a lot of listening and trusting. Matt really spends time curating his sessions and who he decides to bring in; he knows how to keep the vibe right. What you are hearing is, as Jerry Phillips would say, ‘not perfection but captured moments in time.’”

“I had lost my partner in so many ways,” Bluhm recalls in press notes, “my musical partner, my life partner, my creative partner, and all of a sudden I was left on my own, to start my own engine. It was really intimidating and scary,” she says “but I had support from my management, my agent, my friends and family, and ultimately I just had this guttural drive that I didn’t even know I had in me. I was on auto-pilot, ready to move forward and take the steps I had to take to keep moving forward. When the album finally comes out it’s going to be like setting a caged bird free.” Unsurprisingly, album title track, “To Rise You Gotta Fall” is an effortlessly self-assured track that’s indebted to Memphis and Muscle Shoals-era soul — and as a result the single reminded me quite a bit of Nicole Atkins‘ Goodnight Rhonda Lee and Natalie Prass, complete with a “you-are-there-in-that moment” immediacy and a fully-fleshed out narrator, who has the resiliency and determination that comes from living a complex, messy life, full of struggles, heartbreak, setbacks, small victories and crushing losses — while pointing out that life will always find a way to kick your ass and it will always push you towards wherever you need to be at that particular moment.

The album’s second and latest single, the tender ballad “Battlechain Rose” was co-written with Ryan Adams and as Bluhm told American Songwriter, the song was inspired by a restless night in which her mind wouldn’t stop turning with thoughts of the past, of what she could have and should have done differently, of her inability to move forward and of her despair of knowing that relationship has become a phantom limb of regret and heartache.  “Battlechain Rose” is arguably one of To Rise You Gotta Fall’s standout tracks as the song’s arrangement is roomy enough for Bluhm’s effortlessly soulful vocals to simply and earnestly express the heartache at the core of the song — and by far, it has some of the most gorgeous imagery I’ve heard in quite some time. In some way, the song sonically and thematically nods at Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” and the oft-mentioned and sadly forgotten Sandra Rhodes solo album Where’s Your Love Been as the sense of loss and ache is both palpable and familiar.

Directed by Scott Sax, the recently released video for “Battlechain Rose” is an incredibly symbolic vision, unsurprisingly centered around the lingering ghosts of a relationship that has ended in an embittering and confusing fashion and its lonely aftermath.

New Audio: Renowned Singer/Songwriter Nicki Bluhm’s Soulful Everyday Look at Small Victories in the Face of Momentous Life Changes

Nicki Bluhm is a Lafayette, CA-born, Nashville, TN-based singer/songwriter, who’s perhaps best known for a six year stint as the frontwoman of The Gramblers, a band that featured her now ex-husband Tim Bluhm (with whom she also released two collaborative albums), and for recent high-profile collaborations with the likes of Phil Lesh, Infamous Stringdusters, Ryan Adams and others.  Slated for a June 1, 2018 release, the Matt Ross-Spang-produced To Rise You Gotta Fall is Bluhm’s first solo album in several years, and the album’s material was written over a difficult and life-altering period in which she got divorced and followed that up with a spur of the moment move to Nashville — and a result, the album is reportedly a deeply personal chronicle of her state of mind during and after such a momentous transition. “These songs are quite personal,” Bluhm says in press notes “They are the conversations I never got to have, the words I never had the chance to say, and the catharsis I wouldn’t have survived without.”

Interestingly, while Bluhm’s relocation to Nashville was a spot of a moment decision, it actually came from the result of a number of writing sessions that had her in the city. As Bluhm notes, the city was inspiring “because of all the songwriting going on here. When I would come to Nashville on writing trips, it was just percolating . . . it was intoxicating.” Around the same time, Bluhm met with renowned producer, engineer and mixer Matt Ross-Spang, who was in town mixing a record, and as the story goes Ross-Spang and Bluhm hit it off immediately.  “I really needed someone who was going to take the reins and have a vision for the album and he really did,” Bluhm says of meeting Ross-Spang. “My ex-husband had been my musical director, co-writer, and producer on all my records except one and I was looking for someone to step into that leadership roll, which Matt did very gracefully. I was looking for a clean slate; the only baggage I wanted to bring into the studio were the words to the songs I was singing. I wanted it to be a fresh experience; I didn’t want to even have history with anyone in the room that would pull me into old habits or ways of thinking.  So we agreed we’d record in Memphis.”

Recorded at Sam Phillips Recording, the sessions were centered around the live tracking of a backing band that featured an accomplished bunch of pros assembled by Ross-Spang that included featuring Will Sexton (guitar), Ross-Spang (guitars), Ken Coomer (drums and percussion), Al Gamble (Hammond B3), Rick Steff (piano) and Dave Smith (bass), with Reba Russell and Susan Marshall (background singers), Sam Shoup (string arrangements) and various special guests. “We really just recorded live and we didn’t do that many takes of each song,” Bluhm says. “The final versions we ended up with were all one take. It was really refreshing to go analog. It minimized over thinking and second-guessing; forced us all to stay in the moment and play from the heart. . . Throughout the session there was a lot of listening and trusting. Matt really spends time curating his sessions and who he decides to bring in; he knows how to keep the vibe right. What you are hearing is, as Jerry Phillips would say, ‘not perfection but captured moments in time.’”
 
“I had lost my partner in so many ways,” Bluhm continues in press notes, “my musical partner, my life partner, my creative partner, and all of a sudden I was left on my own, to start my own engine. It was really intimidating and scary,” she says “but I had support from my management, my agent, my friends and family, and ultimately I just had this guttural drive that I didn’t even know I had in me. I was on auto-pilot, ready to move forward and take the steps I had to take to keep moving forward. When the album finally comes out it’s going to be like setting a caged bird free.”
 
Album title track “To Rise You Gotta Fall” is an incredibly self-assured and effortless track that manages to to be clearly indebted to classic Memphis and Muscle Shoals soul, as well as Goodnight Rhonda Lee-era Nicole Atkins and Natalie Prass, as the single reveals a careful attention to craft pared with a “you-are-there-in-thatmoment” immediacy; but underneath that is a fully fleshed out, living and breathing narrator, who has the resiliency and determination that comes from living a full and incredibly messy life, full of struggles, heartbreak, setbacks, small victories and crushing losses — all while pointing  out that life will always find a way to kick your ass, and that you’ll always be pushed forward towards wherever you need to be at that point in time.
 
Directed by Grammy Award-winning songwriter Scott Sax, the recently released video follows Bluhm as she’s piecing her new life together — mainly through acquiring items on Craigslist and stopping at local thrift shops around Nashville. And throughout Bluhm takes comfort in small things — a cheeseburger and fries from a local burger joint, the friends, who show her love and support, a friend’s cat, a good luck tchotchke that she places on the dash of her car, and with every minor decision, theres’s growing sense of freedom balanced with uncertainty.

Nicki Bluhm is a Lafayette, CA-born, Nashville, TN-based singer/songwriter, who’s perhaps best known for a six year stint as the frontwoman of The Gramblers, a band that featured her now ex-husband Tim Bluhm (with whom she also released two albums), and for recent high-profile collaborations with the likes of Phil Lesh, Infamous Stringdusters, Ryan Adams and others.  Slated for a June 1, 2018 release, the Ross Sprang-produced To Rise You Gotta Fall Bluhm’s first solo album in several years, and the album, which was written over a difficult and life-altering period in which she got divorced and made a spur of the moment move to Nashville, TN — and as a result, the material is a deeply personal chronicle of her state of mind. “These songs are quite personal,” Bluhm says. “They are the conversations I never got to have, the words I never had the chance to say, and the catharsis I wouldn’t have survived without.”

Interestingly, while Bluhm’s relocation to Nashville was spur of the moment decision, it actually came from the result of a number of writing sessions in the city. As Bluhm notes, the city was inspiring “because of all the songwriting going on here. When I would come to Nashville on writing trips, it was just percolating . . . it was intoxicating.” Around the same time, Bluhm met with renowned producer, engineer and mixer Matt Ross-Spang, who was in town mixing a record, and as the story goes Ross-Spang and Bluhm hit it off immediately.  “I really needed someone who was going to take the reins and have a vision for the album and he really did,” Bluhm says of meeting Ross-Spang. “My ex-husband had been my musical director, co-writer, and producer on all my records except one and I was looking for someone to step into that leadership roll, which Matt did very gracefully. I was looking for a clean slate; the only baggage I wanted to bring into the studio were the words to the songs I was singing. I wanted it to be a fresh experience; I didn’t want to even have history with anyone in the room that would pull me into old habits or ways of thinking.  So we agreed we’d record in Memphis.”
Recorded at Sam Phillips Recording, the sessions revolved around live tracking featuring a backing band of accomplished pros assembled by Ross-Spang featuring Will Sexton (guitar), Ross-Spang (guitars), Ken Coomer (drums and percussion), Al Gamble (Hammond B3), Rick Steff (piano) and Dave Smith (bass), with Reba Russell and Susan Marshall (background singers), Sam Shoup (string arrangements) and various special guests. “We really just recorded live and we didn’t do that many takes of each song,” Bluhm says. “The final versions we ended up with were all one take. It was really refreshing to go analog. It minimized over thinking and second-guessing; forced us all to stay in the moment and play from the heart. . . Throughout the session there was a lot of listening and trusting. Matt really spends time curating his sessions and who he decides to bring in; he knows how to keep the vibe right. What you are hearing is, as Jerry Phillips would say, ‘not perfection but captured moments in time.'”
 
“I had lost my partner in so many ways,” Bluhm continues in press notes, “my musical partner, my life partner, my creative partner, and all of a sudden I was left on my own, to start my own engine. It was really intimidating and scary,” she says “but I had support from my management, my agent, my friends and family, and ultimately I just had this guttural drive that I didn’t even know I had in me. I was on auto-pilot, ready to move forward and take the steps I had to take to keep moving forward. When the album finally comes out it’s going to be like setting a caged bird free.”
Album title track “To Rise You Gotta Fall” is an incredibly self-assured and effortless track that manages to to be clearly indebted to classic Memphis and Muscle Shoals soul while nodding at contemporaries like Goodnight Rhonda Lee-era Nicole Atkins and Natalie Prass, as it reveals a careful attention to craft but with a “you-are-there” immediacy. Along with that, the song’s narrator reveals a resiliency and determination that comes from living a full, messy life full of struggles, heartbreak, loss and so on. As the song and its narrator seem to suggest, life will find a way to kick your ass but it’ll also find a way to move you forward towards where you need to be.
Bluhm will be on tour to first build up buzz for and to support her first solo album in some time and it’ll include a two night stay at Chicago’s Vic Theatre in April and a July 25, 2018 stop at The Bowery Ballroom. Check out the tour dates below.
 
TOUR DATES:
April 11 – Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue*
April 12 – Madison, WI @ Majestic Theatre*
April 13 – Chicago, IL @ Vic Theatre*
April 14 – Chicago, IL @ Vic Theatre*
April 15 – Saint Louis, MO @ The Pageant*
April 17 – Cincinnati, OH @ Taft Ballroom*
April 18 – Ann Arbor, MI @ The Ark*
April 19 – Indianapolis, IN @ The Vogue*
April 20 – Knoxville, TN @ Bijou*
April 21 – Brevard, NC @ Songsmith Gathering
April 22 – Charlotte, NC @ Tuck Fest
May 27 – Colorado Springs, CO @ Meadowgrass Music Festival
May 28 – Aspen, CO @ Belly Up
May 31 – Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theater
June 1 – Eagle, CO @ Bonfire Brewing Block Party
June 2 – Taos, NM @ Music on the Mothership
June 3 – Flagstaff, AZ @ Hullabaloo
June 5 – Solana Beach, CA @ Belly Up
June 7 – West Hollywood, CA @ The Troubadour
June 8 – San Francisco, CA @ The Independent
June 10 – Crystal Bay, NV @ Crystal Bay Club Casino
June 12 – Chico, CA @ Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
June 13 – Arcata, CA @ Humbrews
June 14 – Eugene, OR @ HiFi
June 15 – Portland, OR @ Dog Fir Lounge
June 16 – Seattle, WA @ Tractor Tavern
July 13 – Atlanta, GA @ Atlanta Botanical Gardens
July 14 – Charlotte, NC @ Knight Theater
July 19 – Scranton, PA @ Peach Music Festival
July 20 – Alexandria, VA @ Hamilton
July 22 – Cambridge, MA @ The Sinclair
July 25 – Floyd, VA @ FloydFest
July 25 – New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
July 26 – Philadelphia, PA @ The Foundry
July 29 – Nashville, TN @ 3rd & Lindsley
 
*Nicki solo supporting The Wood Brothers

New Video: A David Lee Roth Meets Fraggle Rock Party from Hell with Nicole Atkins

JOVM mainstay Nicole Atkins is a Neptune, New Jersey-born, Nashville, TN-based singer/songwriter, best known for a sound that draws influence from 50s crooner pop, 60s psych rock and psych pop, soul music and Brill Building pop; in fact, some critics have compared her sound favorably to the likes of Roy Orbison and others. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Atkins has publicly cited the favorites of her parents’ record collection as being major influences on her, including The Ronettes, Johnny Cash, The Beach Boys, The Sundays‘ Harriet Wheeler and Cass Elliot.

Now, as you may recall, Atkins’ fourth full-length album Goodnight Rhonda Lee was recorded at Fort Worth, TX‘s Niles City Sound, with a production team featuring Austin Jenkins, Josh Block and Chris Vivion and was mixed by the Alabama Shakes‘ Ben Tanner, and the album, which was written while Atkins was in alcohol rehab and afterward, and began to see her life with a different sort of clarity and honesty; in fact, Rhonda Lee was the name, she gave to her hard partying, hard living former life and self. Interestingly, the album, which was released last year was the first batch of original material from the New Jersey-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter, and it marked a decided sonic departure from her three previously released albums. Goodnight Rhonda Lee‘s first single “A Little Crazy,” a duet with Chris Issak was a delicate and soulful ballad that clearly nods to some of Atkins’ earliest influences — in particular, Roy Orbison with a hint of Patsy Cline. “Darkness Falls So Quiet,” the album’s second single was a stomping and soulful track that nodded at  Dusty Springfield.  “Sleepwalking,” Rhonda Lee’s fourth single featured a shuffling early  Motown Records-like arrangement that immediately brought to mind  Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, Marvin Gaye, and even Charles Bradley. 

“Brokedown Luck,” Rhonda Lee’s latest single is a shuffling and stomping 12 bar blues-based track that finds Atkins and her backing band nodding at Muscle Shoals, Motown and Daptone, as well as a smidge of Sandra Rhodes sadly under-appreciated country meets soul album Where’s Your Love Been; however, the song captures a narrator, who has reached the end of her rope and recognized that she’s spent way too much time, drinking, fucking up, drinking some more, fucking up some more — and at the end, the same empty, ridiculous rut that she began with; but there’s some clarity and the hope that this time, the song’s narrator may be able to get it right.

Directed by puppet maker/puppeteer and filmmaker Kevin Kelly, the recently released video for “Brokedown Luck” was shot at Asbury Park’s The Asbury Hotel and is essentially a David Lee Roth-like party from hell featuring Elvis impersonators, Hunter S. Thompson, Floyd from The Shinning and hallucinatory scenes with animation and puppets. As Atkins explains of the video treatment, “When I was a kid there was so much cool stuff on tv to get into. I was obsessed with puppets, claymation and animation like Jim Henson’s Fraggle Rock and Gary Panter’s puppets and art in Pee Wee’s Playhouse and even the little David Lee Roth singing cheeseburger dude in the movie Better Off Dead. Those things stuck with me for my whole life. It was always a dream of mine to be able to combine some of those elements along with my music in a video.”

Live Footage: Ruby Boots Performs “I Am A Woman”

Bex Chilcott is a Perth, Australia-born, Nashville, TN-based singer/songwriter and guitarist, who has led  the sort of life that could easily have inspired a dozen or or more country and western albums.  At 14, Chilcott left a dysfunctional and conflicted home and eventually worked her way up the desolate Western Australian coast, before she ended up in Broome, a ramshackle and culturally diverse, tiny dot on the map, where reportedly it didn’t pay to ask people too many questions about their pasts — or why they ended up there. While in Broome, Chilcott worked for weeks at a time on a pearling trawler, where she worked with incredibly hardened men, doing backbreaking, exhausting labor and alcohol was forbidden.  Naturally, the time on the seas, the backbreaking work and the men she worked with was profound and in her free time, the young Chilcott spent hours contemplating life and teaching herself guitar and songwriting — and then later, to eventually sing her own material. 

Returning from a self-imposed exile from civilization, Chilcott learned that people actually wanted to listen to her originals — and that was when she began to perform as Ruby Boots. 

Chilcott’s first two Ruby Boots EP received attention for bold, unafraid and unabashedly honest music that told tales of tough and unlucky souls, who see both their lives and affairs of the heart as deathly serious matters. And as a result, Chilcott has shared stages with the internationally acclaimed artists like Father John Misty, Shakey Graves, Justin Townes Earle, Shovels & Rope, Nikki Lane, Reverend Horton Heat, Tony Joe White, Kris Kristofferson and others. Adding to a growing profile, Chilcott released her full-length debut Solitude, an effort that was released back in 2015 and featured guest spots from The Waifs’ Vicki Thorn, along with some of Australia’s top alt-country talents, including Dewey Lane, Jordie Lane, Bill Chambers, The Sleepy Jackson‘s and Eskimo Joe‘s Lee Jones, who has been one of Chilcott’s frequent collaborators.

Chilcott’s long-awaited sophomore, full-length effort Don’t Talk About It was officially released through Chicago, IL-based label Bloodshot Records today, and the Beau Bedford-produced album features the acclaimed country and Southern rock band The Texas Gentlemen as her backing band. Lyrically and thematically, the album charts this drifter’s restless odyssey, tattered and beaten up passport in hand, capturing the life of someone who’s been tossed ashore by the breakers and currents of life, but hasn’t lost hope or her will; but with the recognition that life will break your heart more ways to count, and when you think you can’t go on much further, life pushes you forward anyway.

Don’t Talk About It’s latest single is the sparse, bare-knuckle, a capella “I Am A Woman,” and the single, which will further cement Chilcott’s growing reputation for crafting personal and unabashedly raw and honest songs, full of the ache and regret of a messy life featuring shitty decisions influenced by shittier situations, dysfunctional and furious relationships with irresponsible, dangerous lovers and good, decent ones. And throughout, there’s the quietly defiant and self-contained resiliency and pride that from my experience I’ve only seen in women.  Interestingly, in some way the song makes a subtle nod at Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man” spiritually and thematically — but clearly from a very modern sensibility. As Chilcott explains in press notes, “‘I Am a Woman’ was conjured up amid recent events where men have spoken about, and treated women’s bodies, the way no man, or woman, should. This kind of treatment toward another human being makes every nerve in my body scream. These kinds of incidents are so ingrained in our culture and are swept under the carpet at every turn—it needs to change. As tempting as it was to just write an angry tirade I wanted to respond with integrity, so I sat with my feelings and this song emerged as a celebration of women and womanhood, of our strength and our vulnerability, all we encompass and our inner beauty, countering ignorance and vulgarity with honesty and pride and without being exclusionary to any man or woman. My hope is that we come together on this long drawn out journey. The song is the backbone to the album for me.”

The live version features Chilcott with three of her Nashville songwriter friends contributing backing vocals — Philip Creamer, Nicole Atkins and Kashena Sampson and was shot in the lounge room/living room of Chilcott’s best friend Nikki Lane.

New Video: New Video for Nicole Atkins’ Soulful “Darkness Gets So Quiet” Offers Playful and Intimate Look at the Musician’s Life

JOVM mainstay Nicole Atkins is a Neptune, New Jersey-born, Nashville, TN-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, who over the course of her recording career has developed a reputation for sound and songwriting approach that draws from 40s and 50s crooner pop, 60s psych rock and psych pop, soul music and Brill Building pop — with a number of critics comparing her and her sound to Roy Orbison and others. Now, if you’ve been frequenting this site, you’d recall that Atkins has publicity cited many of the favorites of her parents’ record collection as being major influences on her, The Ronettes, Johnny Cash, The Beach Boys, Cass Elliot, and The Sundays‘ Harriet Wheeler among others. 

Atkins started playing piano when she turned nine, and she taught herself how to play guitar when she turned 13, and as the story goes, by the time she was attending St. Rose High School in nearby Belmar, NJ, she was playing in a number of pick-up bands and playing gigs in and around the local coffeehouse circuit. After graduating high school. Atkins attended the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, where she studied illustration and ingrained herself within the city’s independent music scene. And while in Charlotte, she began writing original songs and befriending a number of local musicians; in fact, she can claim a brief stint in Nitehawk, a local supergroup that at one point had close to 30 members. Atkins also was briefly a member of Los Parasols, with whom she released The Summer of Love EP in 2002. But by the end of that year, she had relocated to Brooklyn, where she began to be influenced by the Rainbow Quartz Records roster, and began writing songs more along the lines of Wilco and Roy Orbison.

In 2005, Atkins ran into keyboardist Dan Chen, who she had known from playing gigs together at The Sidewalk Cafe, and Chen approached her about starting a band together, a band, which eventually became Nicole Atkins and The Sea. 
During a residency at Piano’s, the band won the attention of music industry attorney Gillian Bar and quickly found themselves in a bidding war between several record labels before signing with Columbia Records in early 2006. A the end of that year, Atkins and her backing band went to Sweden — Varispeed Studios in Kalegrup, Sweden and Gula Studion in Malmo — to record their Tore Johansson-produced debut effort Neptune City, which was released in October 2007 as a critical and commercial success, debuting at number 20 on Billboard‘s Top Heatseekers Chart and reached number 6 on the Heatseekers Middle Atlantic Chart.

2011 saw the release of her critically applauded, Phil Palazzolo-produced sophomore effort Mondo Amore. Recorded at Brooklyn’s Seaside Lounge Studio, Atkins’ new backing band The Black Sea featured Irina Yalkowsky (guitar), Mike Graham (drums) and Jermey Kay (bass). Atkins and her backing band played that year’s SXSW and were named by Spin Magazine as “the best live band of the festival,” and Mondo Amore received attention from the The New York Times and Rolling Stone.

During the winter of 2012 Atkins returned to Malmo, Sweden to record her third full-length effort Slow Phaser with Tore Johansson. Released in February 2014 to critical applause, the album landed at number 143 on the Billboard 200 based on the strength of singles “Girl You Look Amazing” and “Who Killed the Moonlight?” Adding to a big 2014 Atkins appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman, where she performed a new rendition of “War Torn” off her Live from the Masonic Temple, Detroit album, an album which was recorded while she toured as the opener for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

Recoded at Fort Worth, TX‘s Niles City Sound, with a production team featuring Austin Jenkins, Josh Block and Chris Vivion and mixed by the Alabama Shakes‘ Ben Tanner, Atkins’ fourth album Goodnight Rhonda Lee marks two different things — the first being her first album in three years, the second being a marked sonic departure from her previous work. The album’s first single, co-written by Chris Issak, “A Little Crazy” was a delicate and soulful ballad that clearly nods to many of Atkins’ early influences — in particular, Roy Orbison with a hint of Patsy Cline. However, the album’s second single “Darkness Falls So Quiet” is a stomping and soulful track that nods at Dusty Springfield — and much like Springfield’s legendary work, Atkins’ vocals, which simultaneously express swaggering self-assuredness and aching loneliness are paired with a warm and soulful arrangement that features a gorgeous string section, twinkling keys and a Daptone Records-like horn section. And if weren’t for the subtly modern production, you may have mistaken the song for being released in 1963 or so. 

The recently released video for “Darkness Falls So Quiet” is comprised of intimate, black and white in-studio footage filmed at Niles City Sound, Fort Worth, TX that captures the both the magic and banality of the creative process in the studio, but along with that there’s live footage of Atkins and her backing band shot by WFUV, as well as iPhone footage of Atkins and her bandmates goofing off on the road.