Nicki Bluhm: “Jetplane”
I made the wise decision a few weeks back to buy a ticket to see Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers at Seattle’s Triple Door show that took place this past Friday night (and which ended up selling out). I didn’t really know a whole lot about Nicki other than what about 2 million other people have discovered on YouTube: she can turn cheesy old songs into something a whole lot better when she sings them acoustically in a van with her band in the back seat. Seriously — anyone who can make me appreciate Hall and Oates’ “I Can’t Go for That” deserves a second look. And aside from the fact that Nicki gets plenty of those from the males in her audience anyway, she’s one of the more talented and charismatic singers I’ve seen live in quite a while.
I’m quite certain that Nicki Bluhm would have been a major star in the 1970s. I’m not counting her out for the Twenty-Teens, of course — just saying that she would have fit in very comfortably on the radio in the heyday of California country-rock. Fortunately, Bluhm (who actually is from California) represents the best part of that often-iffy genre — she’s “You’re No Good” Linda Ronstadt crossed with Bonnie Raitt and the soulfulness of Dusty Springfield (not from California, I should point out). And her vocals — the centerpoint of her most recent album, Driftwood, released in 2011 — bear that out; they run the gamut from cool and breezy to belt-it-out knockdowns (see the wound-up chorus to “Before You Loved Me,” particularly the second time through, about 3-and-a-half minutes in). The best and most classic-sounding song on the album for my money is “Jetplane,” which any fan of the Cameron Crowe movie Almost Famous will love — it’s kind of like Bad Company mixed with Little Feat, as sung by Ronstadt. If this song had existed when he made the movie, Crowe could have pretty easily snuck it onto the soundtrack as a ’70s original, and few would have been the wiser.