Nicki Bluhm: Toby’s Song

By: Dennis Cook

Nicki Bluhm‘s debut is like a pearlescent treasure kicked up from the sand. Put it against your ear and a natural sound eases into you, mountains and waves and warm-blooded things moving with deliberation and unforced smoothness. In more earthbound terms, this is pretty classic singer-songwriterly rock dressed up in smart settings. It’s easy to imagine Carole King or Hall and Oates cruising around blasting Toby’s Song (Little Knickers), locked on repeat.

This kind of popish rock sinks or swims based on the singer, and Bluhm has fabulous, character-filled pipes. She morphs slightly from track-to-track. While she bears a resemblance to young Bonnie “Women Be Wise” Raitt on the howling, honky tonk piano-pushed “Big Road” or the full grown female anthem “I’m Your Woman,” she turns on a dime, serving each song uniquely with the warm instrument in her throat. Her phrasing alternately reminds one of early Linda Ronstadt or Aimee Mann, and you couldn’t find better guiding lights for wrapping your tongue around the English language. Given the generic, factory built timbre of most women in popular music today – all shrieks, affectations and girlie pandering – Bluhm is a refreshingly interesting, always appealing vocalist.

A big gold star for the brass ones to end the album with a moistly sincere reading of Kenny Loggin’s “Danny’s Song.” Perceptions be damned, good music is good music. There’s a fundamental rightness to the album that begins with the crack band, which includes her husband Tim Bluhm (guitar, bass, piano, organ, drums, vocals), his Mother Hips cohort John Hofer (drums), Jackie Greene (guitar, bass, drums, piano, organ), ALO bassist Steve Adams and Deren Ney (guitar, bass). The song is the thing throughout, and Bluhm leads her group with assurance and organic rightness. Toby’s Song joins the list of auspicious 2008 debuts and makes one eager to see where she rambles next.

JamBase | Pacific Coast
Go See Live Music!