Like many musicians influenced by folk, Americana and Bluegrass, San Franciscan Nicki Bluhm eventually heeded the call and moved to her genre’s musical Mecca a few years ago, setting up shop in Nashville as she looked to pivot to a solo career. Maybe it’s the water there, or just the endless inspiration of being surrounded by so many great fellow musicians, but Bluhm’s last couple of albums have been increasingly satisfying. Avondale Drive, her latest, continues that streak.
Working with LA producer Jesse Noah Wilson, Bluhm recorded the album in her East Nashville home and took advantage of the local talent, bringing in Oliver Wood, Karl Denson and A.J. Croce, as well as a number of studio vets to help fill out her band. The album starts off remarkably strong with the breezy album opener “Learn To Love Myself,” an empowering song bringing to mind a cross between ‘60s girl group and country pop of that same era, paired with modern confidence. The following track, “Love To Spare,” featuring Croce, continues that subtle Motown-ish bass and piano vibe, perfectly highlighting Bluhm’s strong vocals. Elsewhere, on the beautifully sad “Juniper Woodsmoke,” Bluhm is again reflecting on the end of her 10-year marriage.
“This album is a lot about building trust back in myself. Finding my own inner compass and aligning it to my authentic self,” Bluhm said recently discussing the album. “When you go through a lot of trauma, divorce, estrangement… you learn that you don’t have to repeat the patterns of the past or continue to identify with the old story.”
One of the record’s biggest high points is on the funk/R&B-inspired “Friends (How To Do It)”, with Wood’s unmistakable deep vocals adding in the perfect contrast to Bluhm’s; a genuinely fun song about trying to remember how to date again. The record closes on “Wheels Rolling,” a charming, optimistic look at what lies ahead and likely Americana’s best entry yet for Song of The Summer.