Nicki Bluhm
Avondale Drive
Compass Records

A Gorgeous Slice of 21st Century Hook-Ridden Soulful Catharsis

Once in a while, in this reviewing game, you get handed something that you know very little about, but ending up absolutely loving – this is one of those moments.
I’ve seen Nicki a few times over in Nashville, but have only ever seen her guesting with others – her solo stuff was well off my radar – until now.
There are a mix of influences on this release, but the biggest one to these ears is that of Dusty Springfield – there’s Soulfulness and classic 60’s Pop with a 21st Century edge throughout.
Nowhere is this clearer than on the opener “Learn to Love Myself” which, in its production, sounds like a near cousin of Raul Malo’s work on Whitney Rose’s countrypolitan “Heartbreaker of the Year”.
Tinkling piano and Spector-esque drums overlaid with Nicki’s heartworn vocals assault the eardrums in the nicest possible way.

“Love to Spare” moves sideways into evermore Soulful territory with its Philly-style call and response and terrific lead vocal.
”Feel” initially steps up the pace with a bluesy-gospel feel and a distorted/saturated vocal – stop-start rhythms and instrumental dropouts frame another superb vocal performance too – this girl has got S.O.U.L. !!

“Sweet Surrender” is most certainly not the Wet Wet Wet song – this is a minor key late night sultry and soulful reflection where “you gotta earn every scar”.
“Juniper Woodsmoke” keeps things in a similar reflective pace and lyrical mood, shifting between 6/8 and waltz time, albeit in a folkier, rather than soulful musical setting this time.
Though we may never ever settle the score
It don’t matter
‘Cause it won’t be what it was before.
it’s one of those songs which juxtaposes a mainly melancholy message against a sprightly tune and it’s all the more affecting for it.

“Friends” mixes Chuck Prophet style guitar Funk and 60’s Soul revue preaching on which Bluhm duets with Oliver Wood (of the Wood Brothers) regarding various musings on modern day relationship forming and (shudder) the dating scene…
”Mother’s Daughter” moves into a more serious area, dealing as it does with issues of sexual abuse – its mantra of
She is a woman
however, acts as defiant call for survival and survivors to stand strong.
Once again, Bluhm shows herself to be gifted at putting together a dynamic arrangement, with the quieter/louder sections acting beautifully together to frame things lyrically and vocally.

“Fools Gold” has an undercurrent of spaghetti western musical style, where Bluhm savages the false promises of predatory industry Svengalis and other ne’er do-wells.
Things don’t get any easier lyrically on the gorgeous ballad “Leaving Me (Is the Loving Thing to Do)” where
my ring no longer fits your finger
my smile no longer lights up your eyes
it’s a cathartic outburst and acceptance of sad emotional inevitability.
A melancholy fiddle break caps the sentiments perfectly too.
Things end on a more upbeat musical note with the West coast driving open-top anthemic “Wheels Rolling” -there’s doubt in life still, but there are ways to survive and
That’s how you keep the wheels rolling”.

There’s a lot that’s been laid bare, both musically and personally on this gorgeous slice of 21st century hook-ridden soulful catharsis – this is a very strong release indeed and if you’ll excuse me, I’m off down a Nicki Bluhm rabbit hole to see what I’ve missed!

Review by Nick Barber
Released 3rd June 2022


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