November winds blew and a cold chill was in the air, as people scurried inside restaurants and concert venues last Wednesday night in the Tulsa Arts District. Behind non-descript black doors with a simple white V on them, lies the venue known as the Vanguard. On the bill this evening were artists Gill Landry and Nicki Bluhm. I may be a bit biased, as I attended this show, but I feel like the Vanguard had the best show in Tulsa on this particular evening. The crowd was small, but mighty and the attentiveness of the audience to both performers did not going unnoticed by me. This was my first time seeing both Gill and Nicki live and from some research on Spotify previous to the show, I knew I’d be leaving with albums from both of them.
You might know the opener for this show, Gill Landry, from his time with Old Crow Medicine Show. Or perhaps you know him from incredible solo work, to include his album, Love Rides a Dark Horse, which was released in October of 2017. Either way Gill Landry is someone you’ll want to catch live. You’ll also want his music to live in your CD player in your car the week after you see him, because the album is just that good. Taking the stage quietly with his guitar and harmonica, and saying only a few words before launching into his first song, “Funeral in my Heart”, you realize Landry isn’t here to impress. He’s here to share his talent, whether you can appreciate it or not. Wearing a denim shirt, rolled at the sleeves and with his dark looks, he bears a slight resemblance to Jim Croce. The second song, my favorite of the night and off his newest album is “Denver Girls.” The lyrics in this song paint such a clear picture that it’s easy to imagine the woman in this story with her, “with those eyes like painted jewels…and that crooked country smile.” Within the rest of the set were a mix of songs off some of Landry’s other albums, including “Just Like You,” “Waiting for Your Love” and “Dixie”, which is taken from a brand of beer popular in New Orleans, a town where Landry used to be a street performer. Pausing in between songs to talk about the homeless problem in cities he tours in, gentrification and how it is the “slow takeover of every town by homogeneous garbage” and about how he loves Woody Guthrie, it’s clear that Landry has very strong opinions about the world and how he sees it. I personally find it refreshing when artists speak up about issues and their feelings on them, instead of trying to remain neutral in order to not offend or alienate fans. Towards the end of his set, Landry took requests. “Annie” was the song that was decided upon and was followed by “Bad Love,” which was the final song.
Nicki Bluhm, looking like a vintage vision, took the stage with her band and then proceeded to wow the crowd with her absolutely amazing voice for the next hour. Microphone in hand and working the stage, she started off strong with the song “Things I’ve Done” off her newest album, To Rise You Gotta Fall. The album chronicles Nicki’s split from her husband and former bandmate, as well as finding herself and new beginnings in her life. Following “Things I’ve Done” were “Nothing” off of Nicki’s self titled album from her time with The Gramblers, “Battlechain Rose” a particularly haunting song co-written with Ryan Adams, “Staring at the Sun” and one of my favorites off the new album, “I Hate You.” “I Hate You” is a slow, stripped down song where Nicki’s voice really shines and the lyrics are some that I think any woman who’s ever had a relationship go bad can identify “I’m going to hate you…right out of my mind.” Abandoning her microphone and tambourine, Nicki grabbed her guitar to play, “To Rise You Gotta Fall” and then followed it with “Can’t Fool the Fool”. Perching on a stool on stage, microphone in hand with her jewelry glittering in the stage lights, Nicki masterfully covered Patsy Cline’s song, “She’s Got You,” before finishing the set with five more songs, a mix of songs from To Rise You Gotta Fall and her self-titled album. I can’t say enough about Nicki’s voice. It’s soulful, moving and at times heartbreaking. To Rise You Gotta Fall is quickly becoming one of my favorite albums of the year. There isn’t a song on there that I don’t love and want to play on repeat.
Unfortunately this tour is over for the time being, but please check out both Gill Landry and Nicki Bluhm’s websites to see when they’ll be in your area. These are two incredibly gifted artists that should not be missed.