Nicki Bluhm at the Mystic Theater, by Carolyn McCoy
Nicki Bluhm (photo: Carolyn McCoy)

Words by Carolyn McCoy

Singer/songwriter Nicki Bluhm is taller than I thought she would be. She also reminded me of Patti Smith, or possibly Chrissy Hynde, in her features as well. But all that is beside the point, as once she opened her mouth and sang in her clear and high voice, it was only her words and her songs that mattered to me. All initial perceptions of what she was about and who she was as a performer flew out the window.

The California native now calls Nashville her home — and with good reason, as Bluhm’s country-tinged songs probably feel right at home in that talented and twangy town down south. She is on tour supporting her recently-released solo album To Rise You Gotta Fall, an amazing collection of soul-searching and heart-on-the-sleeve songs that came out of the breakup of her marriage and the separation from her band the Gramblers. She stated openly that at the time she was making the album, she was in a bad state, but she persevered with her creativity and transformed herself and her music in the process.

At her recent acoustic show at Petaluma’s Mystic Theater, Bluhm was supported by two stellar and amazing Bay Area guitarists, Ross James and Scott Law — her “brother’s from another mother,” as she stated. Bluhm opened her show with “To Rise You Gotta Fall,” the title track from her album, and her lyrics rang true to most of us who have been bludgeoned with life lessons: “It’s the bumpy road that leads you where you need to go.”

Bluhm showcased many songs from her archive including “Can’t Fool The Fool,” “Little Too Late,” and “Till I’m Blue,” as well as covers such as the bluesy Sippie Wallace song “Woman Be Wise” and Loretta Lynn’s “don’t fuck with my man” anthem “Fist City.” “Flat-picking guitar master Law shared some songs, like “Tore Up,” and Ross James flavored the set with his incredible electric guitar and Dylan-like voice. In dedication to guitarist Neal Casal (whose tragic death rocked not only these three music-makers but much of the rock and roll community as well), James sang “Stoned Faces,” stating that Casal often sang this song to him, a poignant moment of memorial in a truly heartfelt evening. Ending the show was another Loretta Lynn foot-stomping rocker “Leave The Leavin’ Up To You.”

There is something wonderful about an artist that creates magic out of devastation and heartbreak, and Nicki Bluhm does just that. Her show, to me, was something of a “life coaching” lesson about not being wuss when life gets you down. She is a powerful woman with a badass attitude on taking life by the balls and using creativity to heal.