Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers

Nicki Bluhm wasn’t always Nicki Bluhm.

It all began one New Year’s Eve party. Impressed with the talents of Nicki’s performance when asked to play an impromptu blues song, musician/producer Tim Bluhm (The Mother Hips) introduced himself to the artist, encouraging her to dedicate herself to singing and song writing. It wasn’t long before Nicki had begun cultivating a fan base through live performance, one that craved an LP to take home and listen to.

Nicki obliged, and sat down with Tim to record what would become Toby’s Song, the artist’s debut LP released in 2008. It wasn’t long before the two were married, and

Bluhm’s band was ready to come together. The duo grew into a trio, as Nicki recruited Deren Ney, a long time friend, to play guitar. Steve Adams (ALO) would soon hop on board taking care of bass duties, and the group finally felt complete with the additions of Dave Mulligan on rhythm guitar and Mike Curry playing drums.

The full band headed back to the studio in 2011 and released Driftwood, a natural extension of the foundation Bluhm set on Toby’s Song. A bit country, a bit folk, a bit rock, and a bit soul, Driftwood carves a unique niche into the San Francisco music scene, the city Nicki now calls home. A majority of the tracks on Driftwood have the lo-fi feel of times past, an homage to the greats of rock and country who blazed their paths on AM radio airways and jukeboxes. While there’s still plenty of the Nicki fans fell in love with on Toby’s Song to be found on Driftwood, Bluhm and her backing band, The Gramblers, delve much deeper into the artist’s country and blues roots on the album.

While on tour, to keep busy in the van and provide fans additional content, the band created their self- dubbed “Van Sessions” videos by recording live van performances (while driving) during tours using a simple iPhone. The series popularity spread organically on the Internet and peaked when their honest, stripped down take of Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That” went viral reaching almost 2 million views on YouTube. The video turned on new fans around the country (and other parts of the world) to the band’s original music, spiking album and ticket sales to a new level. Subsequently, the band moved into headlining shows around the country, selling out clubs in multiple major markets, and leaving an indelible mark on new fans and promoters with their energetic stage show.

Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers have just released a digital single featuring two new tracks, “Little Too Late” and “Ravenous,” are prepping a new LP, and are on an extensive US tour through summer 2013.

The Stone Foxes

The core of any rock band worth their salt is a deep respect for the fundamentals – a feel that’s redolent of the scare-the-parents, back country, wild juke joint origins – and an abiding drive to carve out one’s own unique territory. The friction between these impulses is where good things happen, and it’s the place San Francisco’s The Stone Foxes - Shannon Koehler (drums, harp, vocals), Aaron Mort, (bass, guitar, vocals), Spence Koehler (lead guitar, vocals) & Elliott Peltzman (Rhodes, organ, piano) - have resided since their 2008 debut, young men dedicated to keeping rock engaged and succulently alive.

“The best classic rock bands are all anomalies. They got away with doing things that hadn’t been done before even if they started playing basic blues. It’s when they started experimenting that they took on their own identities,” says Aaron. “We’re trying to do the same thing. You have to, and it feels like something that had to happen and happened very naturally.”

“You do what the song needs you to do. That’s how this band does it,” says Shannon. “Hell, that’s how The Band did it! You can go back to Muddy Waters and further for examples of this. With us, there’s this filter of blues and roots that we’ve created by soaking up that music, and when we write everything gets put through that filter. It comes out as who we are today, but everything we do goes through that filter, this cultural fuzzbox.”

The band’s third record, Small Fires (arriving February 12, 2013), is a cohesive, compelling distillation of all the learning the quartet has been doing on the road the past two years since 2010’s Bears & Bulls, an evolution that harnesses their significant firepower with “less party rock and less ballads” (according to Aaron) to wrestle with the idea of conflicts, big and small.

“For sure it’s economically and politically driven, but there are still a few relationship songs in there,” chuckles Shannon. “With earlier albums, we were more concerned with how the music sounded than any underlying themes. This time we took the lyric writing to a new place. I think we’re getting better at defining who we are.”

With producer Doug Boehm (Girls, Dr. Dog, The Vines), The Stone Foxes cut 12 songs in 12 days at Los Angeles’ Carriage House, a whirlwind pace that kept things popping in real time, ideas coming fast and furious, bits of lightning captured in whatever bottle was handy.

“We had to seriously bust ass,” says Shannon. “We dove way deeper into what we could do recording wise than we ever had in the past, and we had way less time. I think intentionally recording 12 songs in 12 days kept us really focused. It was a small space, but we really like to play together, get a little bleed and all that. So, it’s more polished – this is our first album captured in a studio instead of a garage – but not too polished [laughs]. We’re finding our own niche, our own tone, what we are, and Doug helped hone that in.”

“We got Doug because we love Dr. Dog’s sound, but mainly because we wanted to make a rock ‘n’ roll record, and he got that,” says Shannon. “He said he hadn’t worked with a band in 10 years that didn’t use a click track. Well, I have no idea how to work with a click. We’d use one to count in but playing with it is pure insanity if you’re not practiced at it. We want to sound like we’re in the same room doing the same thing. The guitars, the keys, it’s all just in your face!”

Like the band itself, Small Fires reflects the times we live in and what lies before this moment, history and choices made bumping up against all the things one can’t control. It’s the sound of a resoundingly great live band brought into the more nuanced studio spaces, a mature work that places them shoulder to shoulder with contemporaries like It Still Moves-era My Morning Jacket.

“We’re finding our sound in rock ‘n’ roll now,” says Aaron. “There’s no more blues covers or fairly obvious moves. We’ve gotten to the point where we’re experimenting outside our influences and carving out our own thing. We’ve really got something to say now.”

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