Compass Records is excited to announce the release of renowned singer/songwriter Nicki Bluhm's new album, TO RISE YOU GOTTA FALL out June 1. To celebrate the announcement, Rolling Stonepremiered the tle track yesterday, hailing the song as "a blast of Memphis soul." TO RISE YOU GOTTA FALL as recorded in Memphis at the legendary Sam Phillips Recording studio and features two co-writes with Ryan Adams and a Dan Penn cover. For these live band analog sessions, Bluhm brought in producer Matt Ross-Spang (Margo Price, Jason Isbell), and the studio band included Will Sexton (guitar), Ross-Spang (guitars), Ken Coomer (drums and percussion), Al Gamble(Hammond B3), Rick Steff (piano) and Dave Smith (bass), with Reba Russell and Susan Marshall (background singers), Sam Shoup (string arrangements) and various special guests.
"It was the very first song we tracked," Bluhm told Rolling Stone, "and Ken just started playing the groove and the band slowly started to drift in. Ken is such a present musician, and he's listening to the words and reading the room and the vibe...There's a line in the song that says, 'I went looking for some perspective, so I knocked on my mama's door,' and he just hit the drum -- the rim -- like a knock, which brought a playfulness and lightness to the song. I love Will's guitar playing, too. It's so understated, but he makes himself known. It's like the old saying goes: 'The young bull charges down the hill, but the old bull takes his time.' These musicians were tasteful; they're all old bulls full of experience and class. Having a string section arranged by Sam Shoup was the icing on the cake. Memphis had melted into my California soul."
After six years with her band the Gramblers, and recent high-profile collaborations (Phil Lesh, Infamous Stringdusters, Ryan Adams), Bluhm wrote the life-chronicling songs for TO RISE YOU GOTTA FALLover a two-year period, during which she got divorced and moved to Nashville, TN. The album is a chronicle of her state of mind following these deep and fundamental life changes.
"These songs are quite personal," Bluhm says. "They are the conversations I never got to have, the words I never had the chance to say, and the catharsis I wouldn't have survived without."
Bluhm's divorce, along with the need to challenge herself, inspired the West Coast na ve to make her spur-of-the moment, cross-country move to Nashville in 2017.
"Nashville was inspiring because of all the songwriting going on here," Bluhm says. "When I would come to Nashville on writing trips it was just percolating... it was intoxicating. So I very hastily, in a matter of days, decided to move. I just had this gut feeling."
Ross-Spang happened to be mixing a record in Nashville at the time and they met up and hit it off immediately.
"I really needed someone who was going to take the reins and have a vision for the album and he really did," Bluhm says of meeting Ross-Spang. "My ex-husband had been my musical director, co-writer, and producer on all my records except one and I was looking for someone to step into that leadership roll, which Matt did very gracefully. I was looking for a clean slate; the only baggage I wanted to bring into the studio were the words to the songs I was singing. I wanted it to be a fresh experience; I didn't want to even have history with anyone in the room that would pull me into old habits or ways of thinking. So we agreed we'd record in Memphis."
Once settled in Sam Phillips Recording, the sessions revolved around tracking live with an ace band assembled by Ross-Spang.
"We really just recorded live and we didn't do that many takes of each song," Bluhm says. "The final versions we ended up with were all one take. It was really refreshing to go analog. It minimized over thinking and second guessing, forced us all to stay in the moment and play from the heart. Sam Shoup did all the string arrangements and when he walked in the room I thought he was a housepainter; he was the most understated, unlikely suspect. That was the thing about Memphis that was cool... not a lot of egos, just people making music for music's sake. Throughout the session there was a lot of listening and trusting. Matt really spends me curating his sessions and who he decides to bring in; he knows how to keep the vibe right. What you are hearing is, as Jerry Phillips would say, 'not perfection but captured moments in time.'
"I had lost my partner in so many ways," Bluhm continues, "my musical partner, my life partner, my creative partner, and all of a sudden I was left on my own, to start my own engine. It was really intimidating and scary," she says "but I had support from my management, my agent, my friends and family, and ultimately I just had this guttural drive that I didn't even know I had in me. I was on autopilot, ready to move forward and take the steps I had to take to keep moving forward. When the album finally comes out it's going to be like setting a caged bird free."
Bluhm will be touring this year and beyond in support of TO RISE YOU GOTTA FALL. The confirmed tour dates are below with more to be announced soon.
GILL LANDRY (Love Rides a Dark Horse)
Dark Horse- ˈdärk ˈˌhôrs / noun
“A candidate or competitor about whom little is known, but who unexpectedly wins or succeeds.”
Love and hate need each other for either to have meaning and I feel like it’s the same way with people. I’d like to believe love always wins coming down the stretch - it just might not be the way you envisioned it. In my experience love often isn’t what I expected and wouldn’t be half as good if it was. That basically is what I wrote this album about.
Townes Van Zandt once said “There’s only two kinds of music: the blues and zippety doo-dah.” I’ve always loved that. In my opinion, labeling music sucks, but clearly marketing and classifying music without some label is near hopeless, so here we are. This is not a blues album, though if someone asked me what kind of music I write, I’d like to say blues. Blues singing is an exorcism of the blues itself, and that’s how I relate to what I write. This album for me is an attempt to shine a light on my various traps and sorrows as well as explore their emotional depths. I try to purge hard times in song and can only hope that through sharing these glimpses of hard-to-pin-down emotions, others may feel less alone. So that’s how I approach songwriting - hopefully not wasting anyone’s time, and contributing meaningfully to the conversation within the songs of man.
Since making my last record, I destroyed all the pillars of my life intentionally and by accident. I found myself wondering what the hell I was doing, and had to slowly start rebuilding. When you go back to the ground level in any field, with your toes in the dirt, you've got to really want to do it. I already came up through the clubs, playing all the small gigs, busking the streets, and also got the delusions of grandeur that come from playing in much bigger places. When you've been through it and you know how much work it is to start from the bottom, you have to ask yourself if it's truly what you want. Here we are, so I guess the answer is yes.
A little over two short years ago, I was set to be married to a woman I loved very much, had just won my second Grammy with Old Crow Medicine Show, and life was good by all perceivable standards. However, I was deeply unsatisfied artistically and needed to leave the band. After the first year of touring my last album, I swore to myself I wasn’t writing another goddamned broken-hearted love song, but then my lover took flight and I found myself alone, worn out, disillusioned, and heartbroken in a way I hadn’t known before. The future was looking like an exhaustingly long walk through a knee-deep tunnel of shit ending in death, so, it seemed like it wasn’t going to be an overly joyous next record after all. BUT, I wanted to find a light in the darkness. This album is more of ‘a map out of the darkness’ than ‘an invitation to it’.
In writing this album, I wanted to paint a vision of the prison of expectations that eat loving relationships at their core and can turn them into a mechanical farce. The premise through most of this album can be summed up by the title “Scripted Love”. The songs reveal characters trapped in scenes they didn’t create as much as rehearsed. Their roles are played through narratives either engrained or sold to them through: Hollywood, social norms, family, fairy tales, etc. Hung up on “what’s supposed to happen” over what’s happening. They find themselves disappointed with the reality of relationships due to their false idealizations. Love becomes a possession rather than a presence. This isn’t to say I don’t think that there aren’t millions of people living in harmonious, real, and loving relationships. I don’t happen to know an overwhelming amount of them, but I know they exist.
In December, I spent two weeks on the Washington coast at a friend’s place where I wrote over half of these songs. I was alone with the cold wind and rain pounding in from the North Pacific. Then I ended up back in Nashville living above my friend Nikki Lane’s for a few months where I wrote the rest of them. I moved to a cabin in the country outside Whites Creek, Tennessee to record the album and then took it on the road where I finished vocals and bits in Stockholm, The Isle of Skye, and Blue River, Oregon.