After six years fronting the Gramblers, Nicki Bluhm is striking out on her own with To Rise, You Gotta Fall (Compass Records). Leaving the Gramblers isn’t the only big change in Bluhm’s life. She wrote this album over a period of two years, during which her marriage fell apart and ended in divorce. Following her divorce, this California girl moved cross-country to Nashville. Deeply felt and deeply moving, To Rise, You Gotta Fall captures and communicates the myriad emotions Bluhm experienced during this turbulent period in her life.
Bluhm laid down the album at the legendary Sam Phillips Recording in Memphis, bringing on Matt Ross-Spang, who won a Grammy for Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free, as producer (in he also plays acoustic and electric guitar, MOOG, and claps) as well as a host of superbly talented musicians: Ken Coomer (formerly of Uncle Tupelo on Wilco on drums and percussion), Al Gamble (B3), Wesley Graham (claps), Tamatha Holt (viola), Susan Marshall (background vocals), Reba Russell (background vocals), Will Sexton (electric guitar), Neil Shaffer (violin), Sam Shoup (Mellotron, string arrangements), Dave Smith (bass), Jim Spake (baritone sax), Rick Steff (piano, Wurlitzer), Heather Trussell (violin), and Ellen Wroten (cello).
Executed poorly, To Rise, You Gotta Fall would be another bad breakup album, an exercise in subjecting the listener to the artist’s personal misery. I am pleased to say that Bluhm’s album more than escapes this fate. Her strong writing, both individually and in collaboration with others – including with Ryan Adams on “Something Really Mean” – will make this appeal to more than the just the brokenhearted. The warmth of Bluhm’s voice and the instrumental arrangements buoy this album, keeping the mood from going into a place of despair. Bluhm has said that the title track is a message of hope, and, for all the pain she communicates to the listener, I came away from the album hopeful.