Brokedown In Bakersfield | Santa Cruz | Review | Photos

Words by: Dennis Cook | Images by: Susan J. Weiand

Brokedown In Bakersfield :: 11.17.11 :: Moe’s Alley :: Santa Cruz, CA

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Brokedown In Bakersfield by Susan J. Weiand
If Country Music Television and the lapdogs in commercial country radio leave you dead fish cold, there is a new curative flowing in clubland. Brokedown In Bakersfield is good news for battered hearts longing for gruffly bittersweet, whiskey-ready music, the sort Merle Haggard, Gram & Emmylou, Tammy Wynette, Buck Owens and Loretta Lynn pioneered and still resonates loud and clear for anyone needing respite from grindstones and time clocks. Comprised of West Coast heavy hitters ALO’ s Dan Lebowitz (pedal steel, dobro), Scott Law (Telecaster guitar), Nicki Bluhm (vocals), Tim Bluhm of The Mother Hips (vocals, acoustic guitar), and ALO rhythm section Steve Adams (bass) and Dave Brogan (drums), BIB celebrates the country music of the 1960s and 1970s, delving deep into the catalogs of the foundational figures in the genre and delivering hearty, sincere readings that warm one’s cockles – and Lord knows we all need some cockle warming these days.

Just on paper, this is a slam dunk conceptually and skill-wise, but seeing the newly formed band handle this material with such commanding presence in Santa Cruz made the whole enterprise seem like something the universe itself wanted to manifest. In short, everything felt so, so right. While they kicked up a lil’ dust on twang staples like “Six Days On The Road” and “Workin’ Man’s Blues,” they also bravely tackled beautifully dented mid-tempo classics like Hag’s “Sing A Sad Song” and “Silver Wings,” where the consciously restrained shuffle of Brogan and Adams nailed the vibe of the original recordings and set a lovely, melancholy base for the others to work off of.

Nicki & Tim Bluhm by Susan J. Weiand
One after another great songs arrived, each handled in a way that showed abundant love for the source material and revealed these players’ meat-and-potatoes charms. There was little fussing or high-falutin’ jamming, the solos compact and incendiary when they arrived. These six largely well traveled, seasoned pros served these songs with care and respect, utilizing a gentle but not tentative grip and giving the music plenty of space to wing about the venue and ping off our emotions. As they night progressed, the feeling of being part of a happening grew, reaching an apex during the off-stage, off-mic acoustic group sing on “In My Hour of Darkness” that closed the night. The experience left this writer grinning so hard his face hurt on the drive down the mountain. Classic country like this all about realness, wounds picked at and life’s wants analyzed on the way to quiet acceptance of heartbreak, prison stints, conniving suitors for one’s mate and similar woes, a tuneful balm for Okies from Muskogee and everywhere else too.

Sprinkled in with the superlative cover selections were a few Tim & Nicki Bluhm songs, including a steel stroked version of “Unforgetaboutable,” a swoony love song off the pair’s recently released Duets album. The originals gained fresh life with this band, particularly “Women’s Prison” which sounded like a lost classic Merle left lying around in this setting. The Bluhms continually knocked the room out with their lead vocals all night. Brogan and Lebo took quality lead turns on “Okie” and “Six Days,” respectively, and the mix of voices hinted at great possibilities available to this sextet given their collective talent.

Seriously, it’s kind of astonishing how good Brokedown In Bakersfield is after a just handful of shows on this debut tour. The obvious enjoyment and ardent passion for true country music by all involved speaks to memorable gigs to come. This inaugural California trek wraps up on Wednesday, November 23 at Slim's in San Francisco, but hopefully festival organizers are already seeing when these busy musicians can free up their dance cards for a reunion next Spring and Summer. Pure pleasure on the hoof like this should ramble as far and wide as possible.

Setlist
California Cottonfields, D-I-V-O-R-C-E, My Baby’s Gone, Working Man’s Blues, Sing A Sad Song, Unforgetaboutable, Together Again, Mama Tried, You’re Running Wild, Women’s Prison, Hello Trouble, Silver Threads and Golden Needles, Silver Wings, Stick With Me, Swinging Doors, Walking After Midnight, Fist City, Okie from Muskogee, Six Days On The Road, You’re Still On My Mind, Luxury Liner. E: In My Hour of Darkness

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[Published on: 11/22/11]

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