When I arrived at The Parish, it was quickly apparent that Gill Landry was the perfect choice to accompany Nicki Bluhm’s Austin show.
“Do I seem glum?” Landry asked, to which an audience member shouted, “You’re Gill Landry!”
“I suppose that goes with the territory, although that’s not how I intended it.” Landry chuckled.
He let his guitar light the way with long and intricate instrumental intros that gave way to his thoughtful lyrics and occasional harmonica solos. Landry set the mood as he recounted his memories — street performing in New Orleans, a Buddhist dominatrix, and an old Santa Fe bartender named Mary who ate cold soup from a can. The inspired tunes of consequence were performed in a bluesy country tone and coated in rich resonance.
Between the sets the room began to fill up. Nicki Bluhm is one of those artists that doesn’t really fit into a single sound, so she drew in a diverse crowd. She’s collaborated with everyone from Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead to Ryan Adams, and many of her songs defy genre. If Bluhm’s sound were a wine, it would be a full-bodied southern rock Malbec with country on the nose and blues in the finish.
As her band took the stage, they kicked things off with the upbeat tune, “Things I’ve Done.” Bluhm emerged from the green room and walked on to an applauding crowd. Bluhm’s touring album, To Rise You Gotta Fall, is about her moving from California to Nashville and divorcing her husband and longtime creative partner. It’s a blues-soaked emotional rollercoaster, and her talented multi-instrumental band did it oh so right. Following this, she played my favorite song of the evening, “How Do I Love You,” – a classic lovesick ballad that transcended genre and reminded me of the greats by Linda Ronstadt and Carole King. She took the mic off the stand, grabbed a bar stool under a blue spotlight, and lamented, “How do I love you? Can you draw me a map? Show me a sign so I can make my way back.”
As the crowd warmed up, so did Bluhm. She danced a little with the audience, then got more personal and asked, “Who’s having a hard time right now?” A few hands flew up, and then several followed. “Let’s hug it out after the show,” Bluhm proffered.
She started to tell a story about listening to Patsy Cline in the car with her dad. Bluhm mentioned how hearing this particular song always washed her in a comforting feeling and made her think of about her father eating a whole apple “seeds, stems, and all.” She related the sentiment to music. It has this power to heal and get us through pain, but there’s also all of these powerful memories that songs connect us to. She followed this with Cline’s hit “I’ve Got Your Picture,” and performed the song with the smoothness and expressiveness it deserved.
Bluhm grooved through the evening with a quiet confidence and classiness. She maintained a welcoming and accessible poise that made everyone want to come and chat with her afterward. The band closed out the evening with the groovy, “It’s Ok Not To Be Ok.” I thanked them for their songs and stories, and I left feeling that little bit of healing that music gives to us and our vulnerable souls.