Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers had been touring for more than three years before the band nestled into the rolling hills and idyllic coastline of Stinson Beach to record its sophomore album, “Loved Wild Lost.” The warm Pacific winds and calm sunshine of the area must have had an impact on the band, as the album rolls along like a trip down Highway 1.
“Loved Wild Lost” is a natural extension of the band’s eponymous debut in 2013, as Bluhm and her mates continue to delve deeper into their California coast country that draws from the fine tradition of Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, the Byrds and Linda Ronstadt. The extensive touring and playing the band has been doing over the past couple years certainly has kept it in good working order and it is fluid and tight throughout the 11 tracks. The prolonged period of time together has also seen the band members grow together from a side project to a festival darling, and the album reflects upon the complexities of this sizable transition.
The album opens with the beautiful “Only Always” that flows into your ears like a cool breeze opening up the backdoor of a beach cottage. The electric guitar perfectly sways with Bluhm’s gentle voice and the song moves with a natural folk grace. The song blows away on an airy harmony and the album kicks into second gear with the bright roots-pop of “Waiting On Love.” It is a sunny affair that wraps you in its flower child arms and squeezes tight. Bluhm sounds jubilant and the band matches her optimistic energy.
The band’s sound throughout the album is colorful and shines with soft hues of country and rock. “Simpler Times” is a troubadour country ballad where Bluhm and her husband and Grambler guitarist Tim Bluhm harmonize, “Those simpler days/ When I could smoke my mind away/ Could it be living simple when I see.“ Grinding times on the road certainly has its effect on every musician who travels across the country entertaining people night after night. Bluhm certainly seems to be wrestling with the pull of the road versus the pull of a more peaceful existence. With whiskey slide guitar and saloon piano, Willie Nelson would feel right at room playing this song at a bar and the song definitely wears the biggest cowboy hat out of the Gramblers’ original compositions. “Queen of the Rodeo” is an acoustic ballad that also showcases the band’s affinity for country, and while pleasant, is uneventful.
The band also knows when to crank up the volume and throw back some liquor and “Mr. Saturday Night” can certainly put down some shots. With tingling electric guitar and swampy organ, the track moves with slippery country-funk that embodies the rousing spirit of The Band. The simmering rock of “Me and Slim” is one of the highlights of the album and sees the band not pulling any punches. The bluesy rock groove moves with a slick edge to it that hasn’t quite been heard before from Bluhm and company and should be a welcome addition in an amplified live setting.
The album ends on a very divine note in “Heavy Hey Ya.” Over piano and hints of guitar and organ, the glimmering harmony of Bluhm and her bandmates shine together in a gospel ode to life and music. Together they sing, “I went to the place where the legends played/ Heavy hey ya/ I thought about how much their burdens weighed.” It is a beautiful song that shows a very contemplative side to Bluhm and the band. They are not going blindly into their newfound success and seem to be approaching it with care and intentionality. It bodes well for their future as “Loved Wild Lost” should only propel them further from the comforts of the Golden State.
- Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers
“Loved Wild Lost”
Little Sur Records
Released: April 21, 2015
Notable Tracks: “Only Always,” “Heavy Hey Ya,” “Me and Slim”