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Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers: Driftwood (Little Sur) 

Soul, country and classic hippie-rock all mix together in this immediately likable album from San Francisco's Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers.

click to enlarge cd1.jpg

Bluhm's vocals shine—a honeyed blend of Linda Ronstadt, Sheryl Crow and Bonnie Raitt—while the band expertly navigates its way around laid-back oldies, groovy jams, barroom rave-ups and even hootenannies. Driftwood might be a history lesson in other hands, but it's fresh and filled with good vibes here.

To start with, the Gramblers—guitarists Deren Ney and Dave Mulligan, drummer Mike Curry, bassist Steve Adams, and Bluhm's multi-instrumentalist husband, Tim (of the Mother Hips)—are a crack band that know how to give roots music a modern touch.

"Carousel" starts things off with a comfortably swaying tempo, and with acoustic guitars framing Bluhm's nostalgic tribute to vinyl records. The band gives Doug Sahm's "I Wanna Be Your Mama Again" a glorious country-blues big-band treatment.

"Kill You to Call" is pure blue-eyed country soul, with Bluhm wringing all she can from the heartsick lyrics, sickly sweet lead guitar lines and softly whistling organ fills. Then it's all topped off with a swell of horns.

Driftwood—originally a 2011 self-release that was reissued in July—has plenty of California sunshine, but Bluhm and company know their way around some minor-key yearning as well.

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