Nicki Bluhm “Avondale Drive”

Compass Records 2022

Nicki Bluhm might have invented a whole new genre of music with her latest solo album.

Nicki Bluhm has been around for a while with her first solo album  coming out in 2008, since when there’s been a couple more solo albums, two albums as Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers, and a duets album with husband Tim. Now with her latest solo album ‘Avondale Drive’, she may have invented a whole new genre of music: Nostalgic Country Soul.  The album starts with ‘Learn To Love Myself’ which features a plinking piano, Hawaiian style pedal steel and Bluhm’s 60s style double-tracked vocal with oohs and ahhs in the background – there’s even loads of 60s analogue reverb. This is followed by ‘Love To Spare’ with its 50s doo wop vibe and plaintive vocals from Bluhm along with some Floyd Cramer style piano. The third track ‘Feel’ moves into 70s funk territory with horns, a “groovy” backbeat and Bluhm’s blue-eyed soul vocals driving the song along with even more reverb. The soulful ballad, ‘Sweet Surrender’ is the fourth track and that leads onto ‘Juniper Woodsmoke’ – even the title sounds like something from the summer of love although the track itself and Bluhm’s vocal have a country feel as the tempo slows down halfway through and a proper old country style fiddle comes in.

On Bluhm’s website, it says “the second half of the album shifts more to the present day” – but does it really? The next track ‘Friends (How To Do It)’ is another 70s funk track with some soulful organ backing Bluhm’s duet with Oliver Wood of The Wood Brothers. The seventh track ‘Mother’s Daughter’ another soulful ballad with plenty of 60s organ in the background that propels the track along. Track eight is ‘Fools Gold’ an old-fashioned country story song that features some Duane Eddy like guitar and wouldn’t sound out of place on the splendid recent compilation album ‘Choctaw Ridge’ which is subtitled ‘New Fables Of The American South 1968-1973’. The penultimate track ‘Leaving Me’ is another soulful country ballad with reverb heavy pedal steel, some delightful fiddle work and Bluhm’s superb double-tracked vocals. The album closes with ‘Wheels Rolling’ another old country sounding track with more double-tracked backing vocals rolling piano and pedal steel.

Recorded at Bluhm’s house in East Nashville (so much good music comes out of there these days) and featuring James Pennebaker, Jay Bellerose, Jen Condos, Erik Slick, Karl Denson, A J Croce and more and produced by Jesse Noah Wilson, it sees Bluhm move onto another plane musically. The overall sound is superb and Bluhm’s soulful, country vocals are tinged with nostalgia and sometimes seem to be aching for the past whilst looking forward to the future. It’s an interesting mix of styles but at its heart are Bluhm’s excellent songs and her heart-breaking vocals. It’s a stylish, heady mix that augurs well for Nicki Bluhm and ‘Avondale Drive’ and it might inspire others to record nostalgic country soul albums.

8/10
8/10

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