You may recognize the lovely lady pictured below from GAP billboards and signage across Center City.  And she’ll be in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection this Friday… but not for an in-store.  She is Nicki Bluhm, frontwoman of Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers, who will be appearing at the Tin Angel this Friday, September 21st, and who I recently had the pleasure of chatting with.  Nicki’s sound is a nod to vintage southern soul, embracing the spirit and swagger of both country and rock’n’roll.  She describes her live performances as “Pretty rockin’ shows.  There are a lot of instruments onstage and a lot of people onstage.  I try to keep it pretty true to that 70s rock thing.” (Her comparisons range from Linda Ronstadt to The Black Crowes.)

While she began her adult life as an elementary school teacher, Nicki’s musical career began at a New Year’s Eve party, when she sang a blues number that just happened to get the attention of Tim Bluhm, singer/songwriter for indie folksters The Mother Hips.  The two began writing and recording together, releasing Nicki’s debut, Toby’s Song, in 2008, shortly before the couple wed.  Since then, Nicki has established her band, The Gramblers, and, in 2011, released her second LP, Driftwood (Which was re-mastered and re-released this summer.)  Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers are currently in the early stages of a tour that goes into the end of October.  When I caught up with her she had just gotten back from a songwriting workshop in Yosemite and had only one day before tour to wrap up loose ends, yet she seemed far from stressed.  In fact, her recent trip to the mountains seems to have reinvigorated her: “My biggest inspiration is just being in the natural world… the outdoors and being outside the hustle and bustle.”

Despite being located in the middle of San Francisco’s vibrant art scene, Nicki tells me that the people she knows and works with (husband, Tim, guitarist and childhood friend Deren Ney, along with a large handful of other friends) are quite a close and consistent group: “I really only know my little niche.  There’s a tight-knit community.  It’s really cool, we all play in each other’s bands.”  She and Tim happen to be the two with their own studio, which she says makes her proud to be able to host recording sessions for all of the musicians.  However, outside of Nicki and Tim’s own group of musician friends, Nicki admits to being somewhat out of touch with the current state of music.  When I ask her if there are any musicians she’d potentially like to collaborate with, the only names that come to mind are Kris Kristofferson (“He’s pretty awesome.”) and Carly Simon.  She goes on to tell me, “My husband is my favorite singer/songwriter of my generation.  I don’t really listen to a lot of contemporary music.”  However, she was pleasantly surprised by her recent encounter with the Avett Brothers, who are part of the same GAP ad campaign that she is featured in: “I got to hang with them in the afternoon and then we got to see their show that night.  I really wasn’t familiar with their music, but it was really touching.”