There’s an easygoing confidence permeating the new self-titled album (released August 27), from SF Bay Area darlings Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers. While they might not sound exactly like prime Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt and Stevie Nicks, what this dedicated, gut level satisfying band and their exceedingly charismatic leader are doing cozies up nicely to the enduring quality fare that built and sustains these established greats. Rather than trying to compete with the Katy Perrys and Gagas of today, the Gramblers are crafting music for the long game, steadily building a very solid catalog and picking up new fans from town to town on their seemingly never ending tour.
Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers is the sound of a band beginning to hit their stride, enough miles and mistakes under their belts to be figuring out all the fundamental stuff that needs to work if one is going to make a career of it.
The results are a broadly appealing assortment that shows off a wider range and more focused oomph than Bluhm’s previous two albums and finally gets all her road mates – Deren Ney (lead guitar, songwriting), Mike Curry (drums), Steve Adams (bass, vocals), Dave Mulligan (acoustic guitar, vocals) and hubby Tim Bluhm (keys, guitar, vocals) – into the studio for a winningly recorded set with Tim and the ever-on-point David Simon-Baker behind the boards. It’s an album that grabs one immediately, opening with a bit of back porch wisdom sure to appeal to nearly everyone:
It’s not how you swim, it’s how you hold your breath
It’s not about playing fair in this life, it’s more about cheatin’ Death
You don’t like getting old? Well, you’ll hate the other choice I’m told
‘Cause it’s a little too late to die young
This group is easy to like, and only growing more so as they do the heavy lifting of building a fan base the old fashioned way, one show and one solid album after another. In the process, they’re creating music with a universal vibe dappled with just enough natural, untutored grace to let one know they’re experiencing something real.
We snagged Dave Mulligan and Deren Ney for DI’s signature questionnaire and here’s what the lads had to say.
- 1. Great music rarely happens without…
- Deren: Spirit!
- 2. The first album I bought was…
- Deren: The first tape I went and bought was AC/DC “If You Want Blood You Got It”. I couldn’t Christmas list that one. “Mom, it’s the one where Angus is stabbing himself in the stomach with his guitar.”
Dave: Texas Tornados’ self-titled album. I bought it at my first concert ever, which was the Texas Tornados at the Arizona State Fair.
- 3. The last song or album to really flip my wig was…
- Deren: Rayland Baxter’s Feathers & Fishhooks
Dave: Hiss Golden Messenger’s Haw
- 4. When I was a kid I wanted to grow up to be…
- Deren: A Blues Brother.
Dave: A sailor or a pilot.
- 5. My favorite sort of gig is…
- Deren: Outside in the evening during summer.
Dave: The kind where Boz Scaggs sits in.
- 6. One thing I wish people knew about me is…
- Deren: I’m an operative for the CIA. But that’s a secret, edit that out [Editor’s Note: Not a chance, Ney. The NSA is already keeping too much from us!]
Dave: That I have solo CDs for sale at the merch table [Editor’s Note: Good ones, too. Read DI’s review].
- 7. I love the sound of…
- Deren: Rivers. The original engine.
Dave: Sibling harmonies
- 8. One day I hope to make an album as fantastic as…
- Deren: The Cocktail soundtrack
Dave: The worst record that Jackpot ever made.
- 9. The best meal I ever had on tour was at…
- Deren: Celilo, Hood River. All time.
Dave: Sunday gospel brunch at Halls Chophouse in Charleston, SC.
- 10. I always find the coolest audiences in…
- Deren: San Francisco, of course! But I’ve been surprised how cool audiences are everywhere. The Northeast is probably second best.
Dave: Phoenix, AZ, largely due to the fact that my family usually accounts for about half of them.
- 11. The worst habit I’ve picked up being on the road all the time is…
- Deren: iPhone abuse.
Dave: Killing time on my iPhone.
- 12. Led Zeppelin or Radiohead, which flips your switch the most and why?
- Deren: Led Zeppelin. The melodies are amazing.
Dave: Zeppelin. One reason is that I connect more with the personalities involved and how they come through in the music. I’d love to party with Zeppelin, but the thought of being backstage with Thom Yorke gives me anxiety.
- 13. The craziest thing I ever saw was…
- Deren: My life flash before my eyes on a snowy mountain pass in Oregon. For some reason the intro to Growing Pains was in there.
Dave: Jam Cruise.
Name: Deren Ney
Instrument(s) of choice: A 1972 and a 1973 Gibson ES-335
Nicknames: I get called “dummy” a lot
Name: Dave Mulligan
Band Affiliation(s): NBG, Dave Mulligan Band
Instrument(s) of choice: Martin D-18 Golden Era
Nicknames: Mulli, Moose